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In conversation: Automation - where do we start?

by Grace Kneafsey

⚙️ The UK has lagged behind many other developed countries in the adoption of robotics and automation but, as we emerge from a year of shocks and challenges for British industry, its ability to bolster resilience has brought automation to the forefront of business planning.

Alas, for many businesses, the huge topic of automation is difficult to approach. Is it feasible for smaller applications? Will it be too costly and take too long? Where do we start? 🤔


"Talk to experienced automation suppliers. The starting point is always a conversation" was the overarching message from Nigel Hyland, Commerical Manager at Comau UK.

🤖 We sat down (or rather, zoomed) to get Nigel's advice for businesses considering automating:

Speak to the right people. It should always be consultancy, understanding what suppliers can offer you. Be careful of being sold a 'product' - suppliers should be asking detailed questions about your business and operations. Tell me about the full product range. Where are the exact pinch points? Questions on floor space, cash, resources, regulatory requirements. A good supplier is a good consultant. We create value for our clients by analysing the pinch points to create real value that will have a positive impact on the client's P&L.

🤨 Is automation really feasible for smaller applications? What about businesses with changing products & customer demands?

An experienced sales engineer can help you ascertain the level of automation that might be appropriate, and in some cases, that could be zero. But you won’t know unless you ask!

We’re dealing with a huge range of possibilities. As suppliers, we're constantly challenging ourselves to meet the complex needs of customers. Automation is bespoke & fast moving, and that's why the time and investment at the front-end of a project is so valuable. The suppliers need to develop a deep understanding of the project - this up-front value will determine the success and longevity of the automation. I really can’t stress enough the importance of a supplier with the experience and the consultancy skills, as opposed to quick starts and uniform solutions.

🕒 How long does an automation project take?

Of course, it really depends. I'd say broadly between 3 and 18 months. If it’s a whole car factory, then that’s the top end. But if we're talking about introducing collaborative robots to pack a box – a standard solution - then that's more about the 4-month mark.

People can be wary of automation because they see huge projects and big numbers. But automation can be as simple as a solution to lift a box above a certain weight. In many instances, we would actually recommend starting simply: automate one process, get everything in place and integrated, reap the benefits, and then think bigger. There's rarely a need for a 'big-bang' approach.

The incremental approach is often the most successful.

💭 What has the industry learnt from 2020?

Expect the unexpected. It's clear that an over reliance upon human resource has caught some companies short. Applying the correct level of automation, at an acceptable ROI, is something all companies should be looking to address.


Comau, a member of Stellantis, is a worldwide leader in delivering advanced industrial automation products and systems. Its portfolio includes technology and systems for electric, hybrid and traditional vehicle manufacturing, industrial robots, collaborative and wearable robotics, autonomous logistics, dedicated machining centers and interconnected digital services and products able to transmit, elaborate and analyze machine and process data.

With over 45 years of experience and a strong presence within every major industrial country, Comau is helping manufacturers of all sizes in almost any industry experience higher quality, increased productivity, faster time-to-market and lower overall costs. The company’s offering also extends to project management and consultancy, as well as maintenance and training for a wide range of industrial segments.

Headquartered in Turin, Italy, Comau has an international network of 7 innovation centers, 5 digital hubs, 8 manufacturing plants and employs more than 9,000 people in 14 countries (including Comau UK based in Warwickshire). A global network of distributors and partners allows the company to respond quickly to the needs of customers, no matter where they are located throughout the world. Through the training activities organised by its Academy, Comau is also committed to developing the technical and managerial knowledge necessary for companies to face the challenges and opportunities of Industry 4.0.


Have more questions? Get in touch!

👩‍💻 [email protected]
📞 020 3950 1545

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