As nonautomotive manufacturers in the United States continue to explore the possibility of implementing robots in their production processes, business leaders in England are pointing to U.S. practices as a model for their own.
According to a recent study by the British Automation and Robot Association (BARA), based at the University of Warwick (Coventry, England), small businesses in the UK are currently failing to invest in robotics at adequate levels, even though the price of the technology has fallen significantly. According to the study's authors, English manufacturers need to take action if they wish to remain competitive with businesses in other parts of the world.
In 2005, U.S. manufacturers purchased more robots than ever before. In early 2006, despite an overall decline in U.S. robots sales-due in large part to hard times in the auto industry, which is still responsible for the majority of robots used in North America-sales to smaller companies held steady, increasing their overall share of purchases to 40 percent.
In the rest of Europe, while sales to the automotive sector dropped about 10 percent in 2005-again, because of the often cyclic nature of automotive investment-sales to nonautomotive businesses grew 17 percent.
In the UK, sales to small businesses remained flat in 2005, even though prices for new robots fell to a historic low. According to the study, UK manufacturers are also failing to take advantage of the increasing number of refurbished and reused robots coming on the market. In the United Kingdom, these second-hand systems can be purchased for as little as a third of the cost of a brand-new system.
"It seems strange to me that our culture drives us to work hard rather than to adopt technologies that allow us to work smart," says BARA Chairman, Dr. Ken Young. "It appears to me that we forget what we are trying to do-make money-and think that while we are working hard we will somehow be OK. Unfortunately, the rest of the world doesn't play to those rules."