At KUKA, we understand technology. We understand manufacturing and the business case for investing in automation. We understand the reasons for the reluctance to deploy automation solutions: time, cost, skills and short-term contracts with customers.

What we offer are real solutions to some new and critical challenges in our fast-changing world. Growing pressures from Brexit (labour), Covid-19 (operator safety), competition (Asia and reshoring), and food supply and prices are now driving much keener analysis of robots and automation.

We believe the time has arrived for robots to prove they can solve these challenges.

Covid-19 is forcing industrial operations to safely distance employees. In many cases, robots can replace every second or third human operator to maintain this distance whilst increasing productivity – an ideal solution for food sorting and packing opera­tions, for example. Also consider the risk to industry of a new virus pandemic: fully auto­mated operations can run 24/7/365 remotely, with no breaks. KUKA believes, largely for this reason, the food and beverage sector will be among the biggest growth markets for robots in 2021 – see the future of British and Irish manufacturing on page 4.

Brexit and stronger economies in Eastern Europe are removing our access to low-cost labour; for many businesses, this is a serious problem. Robots can help future-proof an operation from the vagaries of labour supply. It is often said that robot investment is a net job creator, rather than destroyer, as more high-skilled jobs are created. The proof is not always there but this report has hard evidence; for a clear example, read our cus­tomer story on ZND UK – page 36.

There is compelling, apolitical argument that the UK and Ireland need to increase productivity to compete globally and increase wages.

The International Federation of Robotics reports in September that there are 2.7 mil­lion robots in factories globally, an increase of 12% on 2018. UK robot sales dipped in 2019 while they rose elsewhere, including Ireland (see box). KUKA is committed to improving this, by showing industry how robots can help.

Consultancy McKinsey says that “automation could raise productivity growth globally by 0.8 to 1.4 percent annually” – read more on page 6. Our report has some real examples of this – from pages 24 to 37.

Our system partner model is KUKA’s great­est strength. These specialist integrators ‘deep dive’ into customers unique technical needs and work with KUKA, delivering the very best solution – read more on page 12.

Robots are proliferating in novel areas, even where they had not been considered viable, until recently. As an example, several KUKA system partners and customers use our robots to make props, structures and statues for theatre and film. They need flex­ible, fast, accurate and bespoke solutions.

“We work in a very fast-paced industry,” says Mark Maher at Odyssey Studios in

Limerick. “Often we have pieces that might take months to make by hand and with multiple changes to get right, they spurred us to go with automation.” (see page 26).

We believe it’s time for robots to fulfil their potential for British and Irish industry. We hope you get a lot of useful information and value from this industry report.