COVID-19 highlights the benefits of factory automation

Industrial automation had still not been widely deployed before the COVID-19 pandemic, with investment held back by flat capital expenditure and declining industrial production, says a new report from GlobalData.

And as the data and analytics company points out, the virus has since closed thousands of factories, with workers around the world sent home. It has become crystal clear that, despite much hype over the years, advanced factory automation has not taken over from human workers at scale.

Organisations that invested in robotics as part of their automation strategy were much better able to keep on running when COVID-19 struck.

The virus may serve to accelerate investment in factory automation when the global economy eventually rebounds, but that will take a while, said David Bicknell, principal analyst for thematic research at GlobalData.

He continued: "The fallout from COVID-19 will now focus organisations on the need to automate faster in the medium term, not least to help bridge the productivity gap. Projects like Industry 4.0, which encompass both the cyber and physical worlds, will attempt to tackle the world's continuity productivity shortfall. It is a pressing task, made all the more urgent by COVID-19. Had business moved with more alacrity and determination when it had the opportunity, it would be in a different place. Those that missed the boat will have the motivation to prepare themselves better for future crises."

China is likely to lead the way in rolling out advanced automation on a bigger scale, Bicknell believes.

"Inside China's COVID-19 clogged supply chain and beyond, it's clear that preventing future plant shutdowns means making a greater investment in robotics and automation," he said. "In recent years, China has bought more robots than any other country, especially collaborative robots (co-bots). It will now have to start putting them to work."

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