Riding the cyclical trends of industrial markets is something that FANUC Robotics UK Ltd has performed well since its entry into to the UK robotics sector in 1982. As it begins 2009 it can celebrate its highest January order book for over ten years.
This position, matched against the generally gloomy backdrop of the once buoyant automotive industry, is testimony to FANUC's successful entry into markets that have increasing needs to automate production. These sectors include food production and aerospace manufacturing.
Major aerospace sector contracts awarded late 2008 and early 2009 have eased 'order book pressures' through to Q3 and FANUC's new comer to the robotics food scene, the M430iA high speed six axes arm, is already being adopted by the convenience food sector.
Only 18 months ago FANUC introduced its high speed M430iA six axes robot designed specifically for food manufacture. For robot manufacturers the food sector has long promised to be the next 'volume user' of flexible automation – however the availability of low cost labour and return on Investment (ROI) issue have continued to override industry wide investment.
Robot costs have remained surprisingly static over the past ten years, as a result of technology both in control and manufacturing processes, improving ROI for many applications. In addition the need to switch labour resource on and off is an increasingly important issue while meeting the demands of the 'Big Four' supermarkets.
FANUC is well known for end of line palletising and has a complete range of food sector robots to offer for most handling and packing applications. Now the brand is increasingly being identified with highly flexible arms for high speed picking.
Chris Sumner, Managing Director, FANUC Robotics UK, explains, “We're in a strong position as we go into 2009 – not just because of the food sector, even though that is beginning to play a large part for us, but because we have wide spread application skills in developing markets.
“Our skills are within the business and of equal importance, particularly for our customers, we have worked hard to develop our 'Strategic Partners' who include leading names in the food sector.
“Entering the food market addressing picking and packing applications has seen a steady increase in orders since the introduction of the new M430iA – we knew a steady build up would be the case as this area has been dominated by two brands for over ten years. However our approach with six high speed axes has opened up this market with users and integrators realising the extra capabilities the increased flexibility offers.
“Our enquiry levels remain high, and without doubt, food businesses are gearing up automation solutions on the basis that labour may not be so readily available when UK PLC comes out of this downturn. In addition the benefits of using a migrating labour force are short lived when they're not migrating your way. Without a doubt our message to food manufacturers is to capitalise on a 'robot work force' and retain consistently high standards of output and quality.”
The food sector is not the only market that has delivered an upturn for FANUC – the value of the pound against most other currencies has made UK PLC very competitive and FANUC is also seeing increasing business in markets such as the furniture industry.