Food and drink robot numbers slump

By Mike Stones

- Last updated on GMT

Sales of food and drink manufacturing robots slumped in the second quarter in contrast to general industry sales
Sales of food and drink manufacturing robots slumped in the second quarter in contrast to general industry sales

Related tags Robot Automation Food and drink federation

Sales of food and drink manufacturing robots slumped in the second quarter of this year – down 65% – compared with the previous quarter, in contrast to buoyant sales in general manufacturing.

Robot purchases in food and drink manufacturing totalled just 20 units in the second quarter – down from 33 in the previous three months, according to figures from the British Automation and Robot Association (BARA).

Mike Wilson, BARA chairman, told “There are projects out there, but they have been delayed, perhaps through a lack of confidence. Normally, there’s a belief that the food and drink industry is recession proof. In the 2009 recession, when robot sales elsewhere slipped, food and drink sales maintained their momentum.”

“Hopefully, this latest result is a temporary blip. Food and drink manufacturers are evidently being cautious.”

Lacklustre food and drink industry sales were in stark contrast to sales figures from general engineering. General robot sales soared in the second quarter, nearly matching the level for the whole of last year. Sales were nearly 60% up at 912 units, compared with the previous three months.

Sales in the automotive sector rose by 84% in the second quarter to reach 734 units.

Global emerging markets

Wilson said: “While we welcome the level of robot orders from the automotive sector – largely driven by product demand in global emerging markets – it is a concern that some sectors are still not understanding the potential implications of not automating.”

Other countries were investing heavily in automation to create competitive advantage, he warned. The list included: the major European manufacturing nations, particularly Germany, and even countries that are not original equipment manufacturers. China had also made significant investments in robotic technology.

“Part of the problem in the UK is a short-term approach and the perception that the payback period is considerably longer than it often is,”​ said Wilson.

Total robot sales in the first half of this year reached 1,286 units compared with 2,000 robots in the record year of 2012. Automotive and automotive component orders contributed 79% of the orders compared with 87% in the first half of last year.

Overall, robot sales were increasing in most sectors but the growth remained conservative. “Throughout the whole of industry, robotic sales are showing a slow and steady improvement​,” said Wilson. “We are getting better but not catching up with Europe.”​ 

Government drive

Meanwhile, the government’s drive to automate UK manufacturing was nearing completion, said Grant Collier, head of marketing for the Processing & Packaging Machinery Association and programme manager.

“This has been a tremendous success with over 360 manufacturers around the UK taking up the government-funded Automating Manufacturing Programme which shows manufacturers how they can benefit from automation,”​ said Collier.

More than one third of applications came from the food sector, which was surprising since this has traditionally been an area slow to adopt automation, he added.

“It is frustrating to hear time and again, that many of the food sector companies are reluctant to automate due to the shortness of contracts and the ability to withdraw them with little notice from the major supermarkets,”​ said Collier.

“Hopefully this will improve with the recent appointment of the groceries code of conduct adjudicator – a regulator that will monitor relationships and practices within the grocery supply chain.”

Last week the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) reported a surge in business optimism among its members. Nearly half (44%) reported boosting capital investments​ in the quarter, according to the FDF’s business confidence survey.

Related news

Follow us

Featured Jobs

View more


Food Manufacture Podcast

Listen to the Food Manufacture podcast