EU funds robotics consultancy for British SMEs to be more competitive

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The Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC), part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, is offering companies free consultancy in robot technologies, and a chance to win funding up to €150,000 for automation projects, in an EU-funded project called ROBOTT-NET.

The aim is to speed up the development of robotic technologies and increase the competitiveness of Europe's manufacturing sector.ROBOTT-NET will educate companies about hardware, information technology systems and protocols to help them run factories more efficiently and get more from the data within their businesses.

Companies of all sizes with a concrete idea, challenge or development project related to industrial robots are eligible to apply for vouchers that give the project around 400 hours of free consulting.

To award the funding, ROBOTT-NET will provide consultancy for 16 companies per centre. From this pool, the strongest two applications per centre will be awarded the €150,000 grant.

The funding sits under the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 project, the EU’s biggest ever innovation programme with nearly €80billion of funding to deploy from 2014 to 2020.

‘Open Lab’ demonstrator events will be held, with the UK’s first Open Lab hosted at the MTC on the 26th May. These events are intended to provide more information on how companies can apply for the vouchers, and how to secure the further development assistance.

“We need to get more automation into supply chain companies in the UK, and also in Europe, to become more globally competitive,” said Neil Rawlinson, strategic development director at the MTC, who adds that it is recognised that “the UK lags everyone else [in automation].”

“Theoretically there is a 30% productivity improvement for UK businesses if we get automation into the supply chain, to reach the same levels as Germany or Japan,” he added.

Experts say there has been an industry-wide recognition in Britain that companies can only compete in some areas of manufacturing if they adopt more automated processes, such as material handling and packaging. “This project and the Open Lab gives you access to robotics expertise across Europe, and the MTC is one of them,” says Professor Ken Young, technology director at the MTC. “This is one of a series of projects the MTC is leading, that aims to help more companies transform into digital factories capable of competing on quality and price with anywhere in the world.”

In addition to ROBOTT-NET, the MTC is involved in several other projects to help SMEs across UK supply chains use manufacturing technology to raise productivity and recently launched its 300-page Manufacturing Change Handbook and Government subsidised services for small to medium sized businesses.