25 Jul 2024


Automation adapts to our changing times

The past few years have thrown up almost unprecedented challenges for the automation sector in the form of Brexit, the Covid pandemic, supply chain problems and now the war in Ukraine. But Nikesh Mistry*, Gambica’s sector head for automation, reports that the sector has shown remarkable resilience and has even discovered new areas for business.

Last month we finally got back to face-to-face industry events and were lucky enough to witness the first Drives & Controls Show for four years. It has certainly been a while since our industry congregated in a venue to showcase its expertise and the technical developments that have occurred over the past few years. It was great to see so many Gambica members exhibiting.

I also had the pleasure both to participate in the Talking Industry Live panel discussions and to present in the Knowledge Hub to a live audience for the first time in a long while! It was one of those presentations which inspires my column for this month. Titled “Automation Trends in the UK”, I discussed some of the themes that had been discussed recently among Gambica’s industrial automation members.

To set the scene, the world has had to face some really tumultuous obstacles recently, from the Covid-19 pandemic, Brexit and global supply chain shortages, to the rising cost of energy, inflation and the recent invasion of Ukraine. These macro pressures have caused a whirlwind of responses from all industries. However one thing we have noted from Gambica’s members, is that despite all of the pressures, the automation industry has managed to show great resilience, innovation and adaptation, and has remained agile with strong sales and performance throughout.

This can be demonstrated by looking at the trend line in the Gambica Industrial Automation indices graph shown above. This graph is a measure of the direction of the market and displays trends based on sales of our members’ products. While it is evident that while there was a big drop in Q2 of 2020, there has since been a huge recovery and a push from the industry to return to its pre-pandemic performance.

We have asked our members what they believe are the reasons for this strong performance, and several underlying factors are apparent. The members say that since the initial struggle with the pandemic, they have had no choice but to adapt quickly to remote working – from servicing to training and demonstrations – moving events and sales visits online. Many have used this hindrance as a way to futureproof their processes.

On top of that, being part of a trade association has been a great benefit to many because of the rapid dissemination of quickly-changing policies, guidance and regulations, allowing them to keep up-to-date with governmental changes. They also feel that, through their association, they have had an influence on what is being decided at the top level. One example of this is Gambica’s lobbying for the extension of the UKCA mark deadline. This influence allows our members to feel more competitive during these troubled times.

Other positive trends have included forward planning and stock-building to help counter limitations on imports, and long lead times. It has also become apparent that there were large opportunities for retrofitting older equipment and improving throughput by using newer technologies, which has helped the sector to negotiate these difficult times.

Our members have seen increased demand, greater numbers of OEM projects, and even investments into automation technology to achieve new business goals such as improvements in efficiency, carbon footprints and energy monitoring – not just to boost profits. These newer applications have become targets for our industry, and areas where the automation sector can really help to drive innovation.

It could be argued that automation has been the technological answer to the challenges of the pandemic, leaving the EU and economic shocks. We hope it will continue to trend this way in the years to come.