UK falling behind competitors in use of automation

A UK Government published report has found that the UK is behind other advanced nations in overall productivity (output per worker), which is in part due to lower levels of adoption of manufacturing automation technology and “falling seriously behind” its competitors.

Citing the example of industrial robots, the report, chaired by Siemens UK CEO Professor Juergen Maier, points out that the UK has only 33 robots per 10,000 employed, compared to 93 for the US and 170 for Germany – and the gap is widening. Germany, it adds, invests 6.6 times more than the UK in automation, although its manufacturing sector is only 2.7 times bigger.

The report, suggests several reasons why the UK is falling behind, including:

  • Public perception: A fear by business leaders and the public that robots will take too many jobs, fed by media suggestions that human-like robots will replace people completely.
  • Lack of ambition: Not enough businesses strive to be more than profitable. There is a reluctance for UK manufacturers to become leading innovators on the world stage.
  • Risk-averse: Too many companies have a strong preference to “sweat their assets” by repairing older equipment until it becomes obsolete or fails, rather than upgrading it to remain globally competitive.
  • Shortage of skills: The shortage of skilled automation staff means that too many companies don’t have internal champions who are comfortable with adopting new technologies to do more tasks differently.
  • Finance: With a lack of incentives from government, and a conservative financial sector unwilling to encourage investment for increasing competitiveness and productivity, it is too easy for companies to delay investing in automation.

The full report is available here.