Changing attitudes to automation amongst UK manufacturing companies

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Omron Industrial Automation is a leading manufacturer of technologically advanced industrial automation products and application expertise.

Brian Holliday discussed how automation has historically been seen as too expensive, too unreliable, unsafe and only the preserve of large multinationals

The fourth report from the seminars at the Total Processing & Packaging Exhibition 


Siemens’ Brian Holliday started by highlighting how the manufacturing industry is changing faster than ever before, but that the UK market is trailing behind developing countries. A thriving manufacturing sector is the essential heart of a balanced and vibrant UK economy.

According to Siemens, future developments in automation are centred on Ethernet technology and the integration of robotics and control systems. Ruggedized for use around machinery, Ethernet is an enabling technology in use across a wide range of industries. It also offers major cost benefits as there is no need for expensive cabling looms and significantly less engineering time.

It allows operators to walk around the plant with wireless devices which link into equipment and systems, as well as enabling them to cover more machines.

Businesses can use data from machines and processes to establish best practice. With systems becoming more integrated, there is a greater need for diagnostics, security, robustness and safety.

Brian pointed out that manufacturing represents a small proportion of the UK economy, just 9 or 10 per cent, with other developed nations showing similar decline. However, China is producing more and no longer reliant on low labour rates due to the construction of state-of-the-art production facilities.

He said the UK is one of the slowest nations to adopt robotics and automation in manufacturing, especially during the recession, compared with most other European countries and low cost economies such as China.

Automating Manufacturing Programme

The UK Government has recognised the underinvestment and helped fund this programme to allow UK manufacturers to benefit from independent, impartial expertise designed to assist in the implementation of appropriate automation solutions.

It was managed by the British Automation and Robot Association (BARA), on behalf of the Government. The independent experts who delivered the programme were carefully selected by BARA.

The Government and industry is committed to improving Technology Readiness Levels and has established Catapult Centres around the country covering a number of key sectors designed to improve commercialisation of automation by education.

It also recognises the massive skills gap in the country so has invested in University Technical Colleges (UTCs) aimed at 14-19 year olds.

Robot Sales

Robots can cost as little as £15,000, but there is still a perception amongst manufacturers that they are too expensive, unreliable and the preserve of global blue chip businesses.  There is still a lack of understanding regarding return on investment and benefits of robot technology.

When applied appropriately the benefits are clear. Automation of the manufacturing process not only drives costs down, it improves quality, reduces waste and optimises energy use.

Karl Walker, Omron Product Specialist in Pick & Place and Handling

“In line with what Siemens said about the future of automation being the integration of robotics and control systems, Omron’s Sysmac Automation Platform offers one control, one connection and one software. Our advanced NJ machine automation controller integrates motion, logic sequencing, safety, vision and networking using Sysmac Studio software.

The Sysmac NJ features both EtherCAT and EtherNet/IP as standard. These two networks provide the perfect match between fast real time machine control and plant data management.

It’s built in database connectivity allows it to integrate seamlessly into enterprise systems such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Material Requirement Planning (MRP).

We work closely with The University of Cambridge and a common theme of our lectures is ‘from shop floor to top floor’, or the integration of manufacturing data with enterprise systems. We regularly deliver seminars on cutting edge automation technology and integration of solutions relevant to today’s manufacturing requirements.

We also participate in the Distributed Information & Automation Laboratory (DIAL) at the Institute for Manufacturing at Cambridge to help ascertain the relevance and applicability of their research in the manufacturing environment.”

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Omron Europe

Omron Industrial Automation is a leading manufacturer of technologically advanced industrial automation products and application expertise. From its European headquarters in Hoofddorp, near Amsterdam in the Netherlands, she operates locally in every European country and is dedicated to providing unrivaled automation products and customized expert solutions for any industry.

The product portfolio includes state of the art Factory Automation services & Know-How, Sensors and Safety, Mechatronics and Drives, Industrial Components and Vision Systems.