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FEATURE ABB: Ask the Expert

What’s in store for 2020 in robotics and automation?


he rise of robots, alongside the impact it is set to have on our lives, was

without a doubt one of the most debated topics of 2019. Industry reports have shone a light on how businesses worldwide are embracing automation at breakneck speed – global investments in robotics have reached 16.5 billion USD this year, and this ascending trend is forecast to continue. It’s known that, when it comes to robotic

density, the UK is not exactly keeping up with its European counterparts. MP’s recently stated that slow robotic adoption may be preventing the UK from reaching its full potential. That being said, robotic installations in Britain have seen a consistent upward trajectory since 2016, with a 30 per cent year-on-year growth in 2019. As UK workers hesitantly get used to

working in close proximity with robots, they benefit from delegating tedious and dangerous task to the machines in question, while businesses enjoy boosted productivity and profit. But, as Britain catches up with more automated regions and finds its own path of digital transformation, what trends and tendencies will it follow and what forces will drive this change?

1. Brexit will lead to increased robotic adoption It’s indisputable, Brexit has already had considerable effects on UK industries – one of these being the labour shortage. Numerous EU workers have left Britain to return to their home countries, while many who are still based elsewhere feel relocating here would be too risky. This is inevitably causing a serious shortage of workers within fields such as manufacturing, packaging and logistics. Enter: the robots. In 2020, many

businesses won’t have a choice but to automate factory and warehouse processes, to cope with the lack of manpower. The ability and willingness of British companies to embrace robotics will make or break the success of these sectors in the coming year.

2. Automation will need to be flexible Brexit-fuelled economic uncertainty is causing customer demand to fluctuate unpredictably, making large investments in robotics a concern. This need for adaptability will lead to bulky and costly industrial robots slowly disappearing. In their place, small, affordable and flexible robots will gain popularity.

3. It will take a cultural shift for automation to truly take off While businesses work to realise the full potential of robotic automation, workers’ concerns with regards to losing their jobs won’t waver so easily. News that robots will replace up to 20 million factory positions by 2030 was sure to cause

disgruntlement. British workers have been found to deliberately sabotage machines as a result of this anxiety, so it’s clear that getting the workforce on board with automation will be no easy feat. To drive a true digital transformation

within manufacturing and similar sectors, automation can’t simply be a management-driven initiative – it requires a cultural and organisational change. In its most recent report, Forrester found that not only businesses lack strategic vision when it comes to implementing automation, but they also need to rearrange their structure to make this change effective. Numerous tech companies are choosing internal digital champions, or teams, called centres of excellence to take the lead on digital change. It’s likely that forward-thinking manufacturers will follow suit in 2020.

4. More robots will require more workers with new skills One thing is for sure – the fear that robots will leave people without jobs is unfounded and next year many will see the light. To get UK manufacturing up to speed with its fellow developed countries, robot density will have to grow. New kinds of roles will emerge and staff will have the opportunity to learn new skills – growing, for example, from machine operators to robot programmers. Labourers may not see the value in working alongside robots, but their mindset may change when they realise just how much they have to gain.

5. Cobots will rule to preserve the human touch The perfect balance between automation and human touch will be the key differentiator between companies achieving average results and those truly triumphing over the competition. Businesses will seek to maintain the best of human input, like intuition, strategy and creativity; and they will leverage automation to eliminate the worst, like human error or, in fields like food and drug production, contamination.

Predictably, the interest in cobots,

which enable human-machine cooperation with their nimble design and user-friendly features, will continue to rise. Whilst Britain is well behind in terms of automation compared to its international peers, 2020 sets out to be an exciting year for UK robotics – and, if the required shift in mindset does take place, we may see the UK industrial sector return to its former glory. - Enrico Krog Iversen, CEO at OnRobot

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       

Automation | November 2019 9

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