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The Biggest Challenges Facing SMEs in 2024 (and How Cobots Can Help)

Manufacturing across the UK is at a pivotal moment, with an abundance of challenges and unprecedented opportunities facing the industry in 2024. From facing economic uncertainty, to competition from large manufacturing companies, and the ongoing shortage of skilled workers, SMEs regularly face hurdles that have the potential to hinder growth and production.

Timely challenges such as continuing supply chain issues and global initiatives to achieve net-zero are increasingly adding pressure to already stretched manufacturers. 

To tackle these ongoing challenges and remain resilient, it is more important than ever for SMEs to embrace new technologies to scale production and improve competitiveness. But what are some of the biggest challenges facing SMEs in 2024 and how can collaborative robots help manufacturers overcome them? 

Labour Shortages

Research from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) reports that 45% of SMEs struggled to hire skilled workers in 2023, with 22% identifying the lack of skills as a stumbling block for growth in the coming year. With continued challenges in talent acquisition, manufacturers are repeatedly having to pay higher wages to attract and retain skilled workers, which is putting increasing pressure on profit margins.

Not only is an ageing workforce creating severe labour shortages, and likely will for years to come, a generational shift towards more technologically advanced industries is leading to fewer young people choosing careers in manufacturing. The younger workforce are digital natives who have expectations of automation and technological advancements that many SMEs find hard to meet due to complexity and acquisition costs. 

CoboTend working on Doosan machine

Enter collaborative robots. Cobots are easy to operate out the box and are generally more cost-effective than their industrial robot counterparts. They are a key element of the digitalisation of manufacturing and are an attractive feature in a competitive labour market. In addition to this, cobots like CoboTend are helping to fill gaps in production suffering from labour shortages. They’re allowing SMEs to increase productivity and relieve employees from tedious tasks to focus on the highly skilled work only a human can do. 

Remaining Competitive 

Staying competitive is a permanent challenge for SMEs. Manufacturers need to ensure they are protected from whatever threat is around the corner, be that economic downturns, global events, or the emergence of a disruptive new competitor. It is more important than ever that SMEs build resilience to survive turbulent times and come out the other side thriving. 

Cobots are facilitating companies to optimise processes that bring productivity gains and cost reductions through automation. SMEs are not usually suited to traditional automation solutions and have found themselves left behind in recent years. Collaborative automation is allowing SMEs to adopt flexible manufacturing to adapt to consumers changing and increased demands. They’re allowing businesses to pivot production without compromising efficiency to maintain a competitive advantage over larger companies. 

Quality Control

There is no room for error, particularly when it comes to product quality. Customers expect more in 2024 and with so much competition on the market, if standards fall they will simply look elsewhere. 

Cobots work with meticulous precision and detail. They are increasingly finding themselves utilised in quality processes and testing due to their high reliability. 

Facilitating repetitive and mundane operations, CoboTend is improving the quality of products and production. With an increased output of higher quality products, cobots are minimising waste and in turn reducing overall production costs. Consequently, customer satisfaction increases leading to repeat custom and brand credibility.

CoboTend with end of arm tooling gripping material for machine tending task

Supply Chain Issues 

Global events of the last few years have significantly disrupted supply chains, and recovery has been slow in coming. Demand has greatly exceeded supply for many parts and products, with supply issues affecting everything from material availability to production timelines and market delivery.

For many SMEs, this provides a transformative opportunity, provided they have the right automation capabilities. Instead of parts and products being produced and shipped around the world, it has become crucial for production to be local and supplies closer to customers. 

Reshoring ensures shorter lead times from production to market. Designed with high-mix low-volume production in mind, CoboTend allows SMEs to quickly adapt to market changes and meet customer demands effectively. Local production reduces transportation and shipping costs for manufacturers, meaning production costs are reduced and competitive prices are passed onto customers. It’s a win-win all round for SMEs and consumers.

Overcome Challenges with Cobots Online

Automate or stagnate. It’s the harsh reality facing manufacturers in 2024.

With the development of collaborative robots, automation has become more affordable, more reliable and suitable for manufacturers of all sizes. Cobots Online’s range of cobots are supporting SMEs to increase productivity, increase their competitiveness and attract digitally oriented workers. The team at Cobots Online are specialists in collaborative automation and can help you achieve your goals in 2024. 

Contact our cobot experts for a consultation or demonstration of our market-leading cobots. 

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