Mike Wilson, president of the robotics trade body told FoodProductionDaily.com that investment by the UK food and drinks sector in automation rose 15 per cent between 2008 and 2009 and a further 12 per cent last year.
The trend is even stronger across industry as a whole, with 2010 UK robot sales climbing by a staggering 65 per cent year-on-year – reversing a decline trailing back to 2005 – according to a survey by the body. BARA is made up of 40 robotics and automation companies and includes all major UK robot suppliers.
Awareness of the benefits of robotics has been growing steadily in the last five years as companies grasp that automation of processing techniques becomes a key factor in enabling them to compete in the global economy, added Wilson.
The group said of equal significance was the survey finding that the spread of industry take up was increasing. Sales from the automotive sector have declined from almost half in 2006 to 35 per cent in 2010, “whereas sales to late adopters of automation namely the food, pharmaceutical and aerospace industries are all up”, it added.
“Compared with 2006 figures, the food and drink industry is up by 228 per cent, pharmaceutical, healthcare and medical has risen by 263 per cent, and aerospace shows the biggest increase of all at 644 per cent," said Wilson. “We hope that these areas of growth can be attributed to an increase in robotics awareness within the UK market.”
However, he acknowledged that part of the reason for the surge in 2010 came as companies finally gave the green light to projects originally earmarked for 2008 and 2009 but held back because of the recession.
The BARA chief said the 2010 figures painted “an optimistic picture for robotics and automation” but cautioned that growth in 2011 could suffer by comparison given that the backlog had largely been cleared.
“2010 shows there is a change of awareness and attitude and players across a greater spread of industries are recognising they need to look at automation,” said Wilson.
The group’s survey revealed that most growth was in sectors with dominant larger companies, indicating that SME take up was still not widespread.
The body said it would be undertaking a series of UK roadshows starting in March to help raise awareness among smaller players.