Most Polish entrepreneurs believe in the advantages which may be brought by automation and digitalization of production processes. Apart from the automotive industry and a few other industries this has yet to translate into a significant growth of investment in this direction. Polish companies’ interest in industrial automation is usually limited to purchasing one or at most a few processing machines, whilst the automation of a whole production line is relatively infrequent.
As in highly advanced EU countries, the solutions of Industry 4.0 are currently being dissem-inated, the Polish industry remains within the frames of the third industrial revolution. So far, we can talk about wider automation of production in only 15 % of industrial companies. This is confirmed by the low value of the robot density indicator. In Poland, it stands at 36, in Germany 322, 240 in Sweden and 151 and 119 in Slovakia and Czech Republic respectively, with the European average on the level of 106. The only industry where Poland may be on par with many EU countries is the automotive industry in which there are 165 robots per 10.000 employees.
In some instances, installation of advanced technological lines may have insufficient justification in the calculation of costs. Such situations, however, are less and less frequent as contemporary production lines are characterized by a high degree of flexibility. Nowadays, they can easily be utilized for small-batch or even unit production. Therefore the end costs need to maintain at the level of mass production, while the quality and repeatability of products should be enhanced.
When it comes to automation of production, some entrepreneurs are discouraged by the need of advance organization of the company, which means re-defining or at least making more precise the aim of its activity and key competencies. Such a thorough review must cover everything which is included in the enterprise’s potential, i.e. the organizational structure, technological lines, methods of IT systems’ utilization, state and quality of employment, co-operative links, warehouse economy, relations with clients etc.
Technological breakthroughs in automation
Automation and robotics are the focal points of the effects of breakthroughs taking place in many disciplines of technology. Firstly, automation has come a long way fromfixed automation, designed for production of a single product on mass scale, throughprogrammable automation, enabling the setting of a new configuration in the machine park in case of changing the manufactured product, toflexible automation which enables fast and smooth line setup and changeover from manufacturing one product to another.
There is a constant improvement in the functionality of automated machines and their technical and economic parameters. Nowadays such devices may perform a wider and more diverse palette of tasks, executing them with greater speed and precision while being cheaper. Especially multi-arm robots and those collaborating directly with humans are currently some of the most flexible production devices available on the market.
It is also crucial that installation of automated machinery as well as its software has be-come simpler. As well as such tasks may often be carried out by engineers without specialist training. Soon, it may become even simpler as the processing robot’s programme could be changed by the operator with the use of a tablet and without external expert support. Further-more, using processing robots has become safer to the extent which enables collaboration between human and machine in direct proximity, as in the case of cobots.
Polish market structure
In Poland, there are around 5.000 entrepreneurs dealing with industrial automation, mostly small companies employing up to 9 workers, only focused on local clients. There is a relatively small number of medium and large enterprises, but not more than a few dozen. This means that the automation market remains scattered and requires capital consolidation. Most companies are product distributors representing western concerns, while there is still an insufficient amount of Polish companies which are able to present solutions and compete to foreign offers. This partly refers to the fact that the Polish industrial automation market is relatively shallow and mainly concentrated in Silesia and Mazovia regions, which have the highest demand for robots and other means of production automation. This also reflects the weakness of domestic research and development centres, which are more interested in theoretical works than in seeking practical solutions.
One of the key elements of automated production lines is CNC machines, where only a few hundred are produced annually in Poland (600 in 2018). Hence, domestic supplies only fulfil a small part of the Polish market’s demand in this regard. Anyway, the situation is similar in case of robots and a wide palette of automation elements which requires a lot of import. As a consequence, products representing the majority of global concerns are available in Poland. A specific segment of the Polish industrial automation market is products imported from China and South-East Asian countries. They are cheaper than their European or Japanese equivalents and can be delivered faster to the recipient. However, they are frequently characterized by inferior technical parameters and quality, shorter nominal utilization period and increased failure frequency. Though, this is successively changing. The differences between such products and their western brand equivalents have already decreased significantly.