Eighth annual study from Rockwell reveals manufacturers’ drive for greater automation

Key industrial group Rockwell Automation has released its eighth annual study, which has revealed that manufacturers value technology solutions across the sector – yet many are concerned at their capability to adopt such enhanced systems swiftly enough, reports Neill Barston.

The company’s ‘State of Smart Manufacturing’ study approached over 1,350 businesses across 13 countries in Europe, including the UK, France, Italy and Germany.

Rockwell has worked across industry sectors for its solutions including confectionery, snacks and bakery segments, and the business confirmed that its latest study revealed that manufacturers have placed a clear value on technology as a core means of improving quality, agility and innovation. It added such systems have proved instrumental in companies attracting younger generations into the workforce.

However, the company’s latest study is delivered against a backdrop of major increases in energy and operating costs, its analysis aimed to evaluate how businesses are continuing to adapt to the requirements of automation and digital services targeting greater efficiency gains within manufacturing environments.

Notably, the new report highlighted the fact that twice as many respondents reported they lack the technology to outpace the competition compared with last year’s surveying.

As Rockwell noted, recent years have made a compelling business case for many newer technologies, as market conditions have demanded accelerated adoption, and this unprecedented pace of change is creating competitive pressure across the industry. In Europe, only 39% of respondents identified technology as an obstacle to outpacing the competition, compared with the global average of 43%.

Moreover, as Confectionery Production recently examined with Rockwell, maintaining agility has proved challenging amid what has been described as a ‘perfect storm’ of challenges.“ Roger Gaemperle head of industry strategy and marketing CPG and LS EMEA for the business recently summed up to our publication that there had been a number of background tests that had placed an increased spotlight on many companies’ manufacturing operations.

He said: “Food and beverage producers in Europe have already been faced with price increases last year as a result of Covid-19, lockdowns, labour shortages and the stranded container ship in the Suez Canal.”

In addition, Rockwell’s studies placed a core spotlight on other major areas of business, revealing that sustainability and ESG are integral to manufacturing.

Consequently, it found that over 95% of global respondents noted some level of sustainability and/or ESG policy over the past two years, whether formal or informal. Regulations are applying pressure across the value chain for all companies to address sustainability and ESG in their operations. Europe lags behind the global average, with just 91% of organisations claiming to have some ESG policy.

Significantly, the company noted that 50% more global manufacturers are using machine learning and artificial intelligence compared with last year. This number will continue to rise as manufacturers see the impact that accessible machine learning can have on improving their business outcomes.

“Manufacturers expect to mitigate risk through technology, tighter processes, and people to build resiliency and drive future success,” according to Sachin Mathur, director of software and control, EMEA, Rockwell Automation. “We hope industry finds the report useful in benchmarking their organisations and as a catalyst for taking action to drive transformation that will deliver differentiated business outcomes in your industry.”

Another notable piece of analysis from the report found that overall, a third of global manufacturers are challenged by technology paralysis and the inability to decide between solutions.

As the business asserted in its studies, implementing technology-based solutions is critical to business growth, and as such, in its view, it said that such industry indecision must be overcome by companies selecting a suitable industry partner with relevant industry experience to deliver such

Report findings

According to the report, 97% of global participants reported plans to use smart manufacturing technology to enable and optimise more agile, resilient production processes, empowering the workforce to manage risk, drive sustainability, and accelerate transformation.

Amongst global respondents managing people and resources (40%) is seen as the biggest leadership challenge in the next year. Europe agrees, but assessing business needs and technology/talent fit ranks first at 36.8%, followed by effectively managing people and resources at 36.5%

Another notable finding came as results showed that, 65% of European organisations considered technologically-based options as being at least very helpful. However, this figure was well behind global leaders, with the US (84%), India (83%), and Mexico (80%) leading the way.

Of those who have already adopted smart manufacturing initiatives, 39% of European companies say that the main barrier to adopting smart manufacturing is the cost of smart manufacturing initiatives. Close behind was the lack of knowledge of smart manufacturing technology and its benefits, at 38%.

In terms of pure tech investment, the report found that India emerged as the country placing the most amount of budget into operational costs – with  34.71% , followed by the US at 26.96%, and Japan at 24.23%. Europe was well below the global average, investing only 21.6% of operation budgets towards technology.

“While the landscape is not predictable, history clearly shows that adversity ignites innovation and creates opportunity. Manufacturers with the right vision and strategy bias for action and partners will seize this moment to outpace our competitors and forge a bright future,” Mathur added of its findings. For further details of the extended report can be seen here.


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