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Automation is vital for productivity increases

08 April 2016

The findings of a recent report highlight some of the critical business requirements that impact manufacturing productivity in the UK.

A recent report – ‘A Blueprint for the Future of UK Manufacturing’– from Siemens UK & Ireland has highlighted that UK manufacturers and senior management are calling on business and Government to focus on three key areas of the Government’s 15-point ‘productivity plan.’ They believe that education, investment and innovation are critical to help the sector increase global competitiveness and make productivity gains.

The report found that the skills issue remains a key concern, with 73% of organisations stating that training and educating the next generation of manufacturing workforce was the most important measure they would like to see improved across the country.

The report also identified a desire to see greater commitment for investment in infrastructure and digital technologies to improve productivity. Overwhelmingly, manufacturers said that there needs to be targetted investment at strategically important improvement projects, such as the road network and energy infrastructure.

Manufacturers believe that improved support is needed to enable greater collaboration between education and business. Many also want greater access to funding to invest in R&D and other innovative manufacturing techniques and processes. Nearly half asked for the permanent establishment of R&D tax credits and many called for a reform to business rates to encourage greater investment in plant and equipment.

Commenting on the findings, Brian Holliday, managing director – Digital Factory, Siemens UK & Ireland said: “We undertook this consultation to gain an insight into what industry wants the UK to focus on to aid global competitiveness and productivity. Three key areas came to the fore – education, investment and innovation – which align closely with three of the pillars of the UK’s ‘Productivity Plan’. Together, these form a persuasive, insightful and sustainable ‘Blueprint for the Future of UK Manufacturing’ and an achievable template for success.

A critical sector
“UK manufacturing is a critical sector, delivering 11% of national GDP and employing 2.6 million people. It is crucial that its future success is protected. Recent reports from the EEF have shown that manufacturing is key to solving the UK’s ‘productivity puzzle’, so now is the time for action to build upon the good work already underway, and lay a strong foundation from which our innovative manufacturing sector can compete on a global stage once again.”

While investment remains critical, the consultation also showed that manufacturers are already committed to investing in new technologies themselves, with 91% of manufacturers already deploying automation and control systems to help optimise operational efficiencies and 83% stating that they have a desire to continue to invest in these areas. Many manufacturers are also planning investment to help address obsolescence and improve productivity.

While many acknowledge the potential promised by Industry 4.0, digitisation is already having an influence in the industrial environment, and the power of automation technology is making real inroads in this sector. For example, product lifecycle management tools in a virtual digitalised world are now able to design, prototype and simulate products to optimise development timescales. Other automation tools are able to design and simulate an assembly line to support the optimisation of logistics processes and production throughput – without the need to invest significant sums up front. Unified digital connections between the critical phases of product design, production planning, engineering and execution, using relatively inexpensive automation technology solutions, are shortening product development timeframes, reducing costs and providing key insight to inform future investment decisions.

Such digital capability is scalable, affordable and available today across the manufacturing spectrum to the smallest SME, as well as to a large-scale production facility.

Using automation technology, a number of manufacturers are benefitting from reduced capital expenditure investment risk, improved operational efficiencies, enhanced levels of production flexibility and productivity and shortened time to market. However, more manufacturers need to follow suit. Although the report clearly shows that manufacturers see the benefits of automaton technology they still need encouragement, support and the practical means to continue with their proposed investment plans. Positive action and support is, therefore, needed from all stakeholders – including Government – in a number of key areas over the short, medium and long-term to drive home the benefits of automation for UK manufacturers to help facilitate growth and to enhance future global competitiveness.

A copy of the report can be downloaded from www.siemens.co.uk


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