European countries boast the highest level of robot density globally, with there being 106 installed robot units per every 10,000 employees on average. The UK, however, ranks low in robot density with 85 units. This places the UK at the 22nd spot worldwide right behind China, which boasts a density of 97 units, and far behind Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Belgium. The impact of its low ranking includes lower manufacturing productivity and efficiency, which makes it less competitive in manufacturing vis-à-vis other European countries like Germany. However, all this is bound to change as the uncertainty gaps brought about by Brexit get filled with time.
Here is why the UK has been ranking low in robot density and how Brexit will improve it all:
Being in the EU meant a healthy labour market
The European Union has always boosted trade and migration between countries in Europe. It was pretty easy for people from other neighbouring countries to move into the UK in search of jobs. Even better, the mentality of the manufacturing industry of UK companies made this easier.
For most companies, it was cheaper to employ workers from Eastern Europe to do repetitive and simple factory-floor jobs than to opt for automation. This created some level of mutual needs, whereby immigrants needed the work offered. Brexit just happens to complicate the situation.
Brexit brings about a labour shortage
Post-Brexit UK isn’t as attractive as it was before. People are uncertain about how the move will affect the country’s economy, let alone the manufacturing industry. For some immigrants, it seems easier to work in countries like Denmark that have a more predictable future than the UK.
The limits on immigration also make it tougher for immigrants to find their way into the country. In fact, most might actually be going back to their home countries. As for the manufacturing industry, this means that the cheap labour that they had access to will be in shortage, which creates a gap that could easily be filled by automation.
What does the UK stand to gain from improved automation?
Of course, an increase in the automation of the manufacturing industry might lead to the loss of jobs, but the situation that the UK is in makes it ideal. In the first place, the country is bound to experience some labour shortages. Other than just filling these labour gaps, improving the country’s robot density will make the country even more competitive in manufacturing. Some of the benefits will include:
1. Improved productivity
When compared to the labour provided by humans, machines can run for hours non-stop without needing breaks or acquiring any injuries. Also, they can do redundant tasks without dropping their levels of productivity or becoming bored like their human counterparts. In return, manufacturing firms will enjoy more accuracy in production as well as some uniformity in the products produced.
2. Safe working environments
Unlike human workers, robots can withstand hazardous working environments. They can easily work in environments that have high heat levels or are slippery without reducing their productivity. This reduces injury costs and lawsuits that could come with workplace accidents.
As for the idea that the robots themselves might be hazardous to workers, collaborative robots are changing everything. Not only can these robots correlate with humans without needing to be caged, but they can also amplify the success rate of the job at hand. As a result, an employee will only need a single robot and some programming knowledge to work in a manufacturing firm.
3. Cost reduction
Ignoring automation comes with some costs. First, a manufacturing firm will manage to handle fewer orders in a day than it would have with the help of robots. Second, the costs of employee absence or workplace injuries can make it tougher to achieve the projected profit margins. Third, mistakes in manufacturing can be costly, not to mention lead to the loss of customers. All these costs can be avoided by embracing automation throughout the manufacturing industry.
4. Improving manufacturing competitiveness
Considering the UK’s current rank on the robot density scale, production lead times for the UK are long when compared to other countries in Europe and the entire world. While an employee in the country will take five hours to complete an order, it might take an employee in Germany four hours or less. This situation makes the market favourable for automation oriented countries. Through increasing the UK’s adoption of automation in the manufacturing industry, the country can gain some competitive advantage through faster production lead times, improved accuracy, and better product quality.
Some of the excuses against automation aren’t viable
For some businesses, the initial investment in automation might seem expensive. However, most of these businesses ignore the long term benefits brought about by the investment and the potential ROI. In some cases, the excuse might be lacking access to skilled engineers to program the robots.
This excuse doesn’t hold up as modern-day collaborative robots tend to be quite easy to program. They are designed in a way that anyone who owns a smartphone will know their way around them. A few hours of training might be enough to handle them. Lastly, those who perceive robots as ‘job thieves’ should rest assured that the robots are poised to improve the manufacturing industry- they are only but an extra pair of hands. Case in point, countries that rank high in the robot density scale such as Belgium still have a healthy job market.
Brexit means that the idea of frictionless trade with Europe will fade away, but the UK can rely on automation in the manufacturing industry to reduce its effects. With automation, the country’s manufacturing industry will become a force to be reckoned with worldwide, let alone in Europe. The more the government can champion automation, the lower the economic impact of Brexit will become.