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A £50m fillip for advanced manufacturing

15 December 2010

Business minister Mark Prisk has set the wheels in motion for a review into how we can grow advanced manufacturing in the UK. The rather sombrely titled Growth Review Framework for Advanced Manufacturing, published earlier this month, asks how we can remove the barriers that are not only preventing the UK from becoming a leading exporter of high value goods in Europe, but which also seem to be putting people off careers in engineering.

First off is a cash boost of £50 million over three years for the Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS), which provides guidance to industry - and more particularly SMEs - on how to improve productivity and competitiveness. Next month a top-level summit attended by the likes of Nick Clegg, Vince Cable and Mark Prisk, as well as key manufacturing stakeholders, will help set the agenda for the Advanced Manufacturing strand of the government’s Growth Review which will announce policy proposals by Budget 2011.

Studies carried out among UK SMEs by the Engineering and Machinery Alliance (EAMA) suggest that the main barriers to implementing the fundamental components of automation for advanced manufacturing are a lack of knowledge and skills, and widespread risk averse attitudes. A four-country benchmarking study commissioned by EAMA, with support from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the British Automation and Robot Association (BARA), shows manufacturers have invested significantly less in modern manufacturing technologies than their counterparts in mainland Europe. As a result, many UK manufacturers aren’t as competitive as they could be.

In a relatively high cost economy such as the UK, automation is an essential ingredient in the sustainability of many manufacturing businesses enabling them to compete more successfully in the global market. Automating manufacturing processes not only drives costs down, it improves quality, reduces waste and optimises energy use.

According to the benchmarking study, UK manufacturing has fallen a long way behind our European competitors. Taking robot use as an example, Germany has an installed base of 144,800 industrial robots and Spain 28,600, whereas the UK records only 15,100. EAMA chairman Martin Walder says that by comparing UK companies with similar businesses in Germany, Spain and Sweden, this study highlights our weakness in automation. “If UK manufacturing is to remain competitive we have to act now,” he urges.

In addition to MAS’ cash injection, BIS has earmarked some £600,000 for a two year automation and robotics programme to be developed and run by EAMA and BARA. Its aim is to prepare companies for their first forays into robotics and automation, and then help them to get the best out of their investments.

In addition to supporting the automation and robotics programme, BARA with the assistance of members, including ABB Robotics and Kuka Automation + Robotics, and other trade bodies, such as the Food and Drink Federation, the Processing and Packaging Machinery Association and other EAMA members, is implementing a regional events programme to help SMEs understand the benefits of automation.

“Although the UK is a long way behind in the use of automation when compared to some other countries, manufacturing in the UK has many strengths, including reasonable productivity levels achieved by the widespread assimilation of lean concepts,” says BARA president Mike Wilson. “If the use of automation can be increased, UK manufacturing has the potential to be a significant force in global markets.”

For more details about the regional events programme visit http://www.eama.info/ and http://www.bara.org.uk/.

A vision of the future
Stackable electric cars that can be hired all over big cities, a website where you can rent out your vehicle when you’re not using it, lifelike ‘telepresence’ screens that let you talk to people in different countries and feel you’re in the same room – hints of what life might be like in 2040, according to a new report from Forum for the Future.

The report, Megacities on the Move, argues that cities need to radically re-engineer their infrastructures to cope with much larger populations. By 2040 two in three people will live in cities; the world’s urban population will grow from 3.5 billion to 5.6 billion and without action now, cities risk becoming dysfunctional environments where people face extreme deprivation, shortages of food, water and energy, and are vulnerable to floods, heat waves and other impacts of climate change.

Pondering this doomsday scenario, Forum CEO Peter Madden says that how cities develop today will lock in behaviour for decades to come. “The future wellbeing of billions of people depends on the action we take now,” he says. “The global race for sustainability will be won or lost in the streets of our megacities.”

The report offers a practical toolkit setting out six solutions for sustainable mobility that governments might do well to follow now to help city-dwellers access the people, goods, services and information they need - and it gives examples of where these are already happening. It also provides four vivid scenarios for the world of 2040 which organisations can use to make long-term planning more effective by exploring what the future might hold for them.

Les Hunt
Editor

 


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