Automation Poland: Increase the tempo

| Author / Editor: Andrzej Ostrowski / Theresa Knell

Automation is one of the so-called megatrends, visible in all sectors of manufacturing industry. Today it would be difficult to gain a competitive advantage and achieve success without implementing solutions that automatize the manufacturing process. Many entrepreneurs in Poland still limit themselves to buying a few processing machines, without the automation of the entire production process.

Many entrepreneurs in Poland still limit themselves to buying a few processing machines, without the automation of the entire production process.
Many entrepreneurs in Poland still limit themselves to buying a few processing machines, without the automation of the entire production process.
(Source: etemwanich – Adobe Stock)

Although in the most advanced economies the solutions of the fourth industrial revolution are already disseminated, based on the Internet of Things, big data or artificial intelligence, the Polish industry as a whole has not yet managed to go beyond the framework of the third industrial revolution, based i.a. on PLC controllers and SCADA, ERP and MES software, which enable the development of production automation. This state of affairs is also confirmed by analyses of the technological advancement of domestic processing.

The Smart IndustryPoland project results show that only 15% of industrial companies can be called “more automated”, which places Poland behind the majority of EU countries. The weak position in this area is also confirmed by the low value of the so-called robotization density index (the number of industrial robots installed per 10 thousand people employed in general industry) - according to the report of the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) in 2018, this index in Poland was only 42, while in Germany it was 338, in Sweden: 247, and in Slovakia and the Czech Republic (i.e. in the countries which in 1995, together with Poland, were equally far behind the countries of Western Europe) - 165 and 135 respectively. The European average is 114.

The only industry in which Poland can compare itself with many EU countries in this respect is the automotive industry (index at the level of 189). Here, however, the foreign capital prevails and the sector clearly stands out from the rest of the Polish industry in terms of automation and robotization.

The need for consolidation

In the broadly understood industrial automation industry in Poland there are about 5 thousand enterprises, the vast majority of which are small companies, oriented almost exclusively towards local customers. There are relatively few medium and large enterprises (including those with foreign capital), with a solid capital base and experience in implementing complex projects. This means that the automation market is still largely dispersed and requires capital consolidation.

One of the key elements of automated production lines are numerically controlled processing tools, and these are manufactured in Poland in numbers that reach only a few hundred per year (600 in 2018) - in addition, in a rather limited range in terms of type of machines and their basic parameters. It follows that domestic deliveries cover a small part (according to some data: 25%) of the needs of the Polish market in terms of CNC machine tools. The same is true for robots and the whole range of automatic means (with the exception of instruments and measuring and control equipment). It influences the increase of import and consequently in Poland there are available products of the majority of reputable world concerns associated with the industrial automation industry, with a significant share of products imported from South-East Asian countries.

Increasing functionality of machines and equipment

Although the pace of automation of production in Polish enterprises may be subject to a number of objections, in recent years a gradual increase in automation implementations, including industrial robots, whose technical and economic parameters are constantly being improved, has been observed. This enables them to carry out an increasingly wide and diverse range of tasks today. Particular development can be seen in the area of multi-armed robots and robots directly cooperating with humans (cobots).

Importantly, the installation of automated machines and their programming have been simplified to such an extent that these tasks can often be performed by unqualified engineers. It may soon become even easier: the operator of an automatic machine will be able to change its program using a tablet without any expert support from outside.

A feature of the new generation of automated machines is also a very low failure rate, thanks to the systems monitoring the operation of major components, capable of detecting and diagnosing symptoms of a possible failure before it actually occurs. Systematic decrease of costs of production automation and robotization is the cause that the return on such investments has been significantly shortened and in case of proper design and implementation of automation of technological sequences it usually does not exceed 2-4 years.

A mental barrier

For some entrepreneurs operating on the Polish market, an obstacle to automation of production is the need to prior organize the company, i.e. redefine or at least clarify the purpose of its activity and key competences. A thorough review must cover everything that makes up the company's potential, i.e. the organizational structure, technological sequences, the way IT systems are used, the state and quality of employment, cooperative relations, warehouse management, customer relations, etc.

The automation only makes sense if the entrepreneur prepares for it in a reliable way in terms of organization, competence and mentality. Otherwise, the return on investment may be unacceptably long, which will put into question the rationality of purchasing modern machines.

Until now, in some cases, due to the small scale of the activity or the very large product mix of the manufactured products, the installation of advanced process lines may not have been sufficiently justified in the cost calculation. However, this situation is becoming less and less frequent, as modern production lines are characterised by more and more flexible production lines.

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