Cumbrian SMEs adopting robotics and automation are creating new and upskilled jobs.
Since 2019, the Made Smarter North West Adoption Programme – a collaboration between the Government and industry designed to support the increased use of digital technologies – has supported businesses with seven projects focussed on robotics and automation machinery.
The £336,000 investment, which combines £161,000 of grant funding and leverages £175,000 of private finance, is forecast to create 11 new jobs, upskill 31 workers, and boost the county’s GVA by £24.4 million.
Among those businesses adopting robotics and automation are Bells of Lazonby, which invested in two programmable ultrasonic cutting robots, Shane Taylor Welding, a fabrication and mechanical engineering business in Maryport which created two new jobs after adopting a CNC plasma cutting machine, and Forge Europa, a manufacturer of cutting edge LED solutions based in Ulverston.
James Tanner Joinery, based in Kendal, invested in a five axis CNC machine and software and Friars, a chocolate maker based in Keswick and Ambleside, is adopting an automated process solution to scale up production.
Agricultural machine manufacturer Storth, based in Holme, used robotics to navigate staff shortages during the pandemic and overcome the problem of skilled welders being tied up with repetitive tasks.
Its robotic welding system produces parts at twice the rate its human counterparts and welding staff have been moved to higher value, more rewarding and more technically challenging roles.
Julian Lopez, export manager at Storth, said: “Our investment in the robot welder enabled us to manufacture quicker and cost effectively, and solved the problem of manpower not just in terms of sourcing quality welders to satisfy demand but to maintain production during the pandemic when welders were self-isolating.
“Meanwhile the technology has made us more competitive to be able to react quickly to orders and changed the way we can approach export markets.
“We have also been able to create new apprentice roles to operate the robotics and cultivate the skills we will need in the future.”
Across the North West, Made Smarter has supported 41 businesses with 45 technology projects focused on robotics and automation machinery, valued at £2M and forecast to create 183 new jobs, upskill 234 existing workers, and increase the region’s GVA by £137.4M over the next three years.
Alain Dilworth, North West Adoption programme manager at Made Smarter, said: “These figures are further evidence that robots, cobots, and process control automation technologies are creating more jobs than they displace, as well as a host of other benefits.
“Manufacturers who have adopted these digital technologies are experiencing increased productivity and efficiency, more consistent and improved part production and quality, lower operating costs, reduced lead times, the ability to be more competitive, and improved worker safety.
“The Made Smarter North West Adoption Programme has proven the value that digital technology can bring to the manufacturing sector. By providing businesses with specialist, impartial technology advice, grant funding for projects, digital transformation workshops, a leadership programme, digital technology internships, and skills development, Made Smarter is helping them select the right approach and the appropriate level of investment and tools for their business.
“Ultimately, at the heart of any change are the people, who are fundamental to understanding the need for change, driving that change and adopting that change.”
While the adoption of robotics in the UK is on the rise, it is well behind global competition. According to the International Federation of Robotics, the UK’s ‘robot density’ or the number of robots per 10,000 workers is 71, below the global average of 74, and significantly lower than Germany (309) and South Korea (631).*
Mark Stepney, Director of the British Automation and Robot Association (BARA), part of the PPMA Group of Associations, said: “It is fantastic to see Made Smarter supporting SME manufacturers in the adoption of advanced technologies like robotics to address the UK’s shortfall in productivity.
“The ROI on the use of industrial robots is startlingly clear. Along with faster production comes a long sought-after benefit: the ability to free human workers from the dangers and drudgery of manual work. Human workers can be elevated to roles where their individual skills and cognitive abilities can be better utilised.”