Manufacturing SMEs in NWE are struggling to maintain their cost competitiveness against large-scale production facilities in low-wage economies. This sector specifically suffers workforce scarcity because employees in manufacturing SMEs are often subjected to physically repetitive tasks. The tasks are often under-stimulating, as well as contributing to adverse health effects. The next step to increase competitiveness will only be achieved by offering the high levels of production flexibility, made possible by collaborative robotics.
With the potential to have as much, if not more, impact on the manufacturing sector as 3D printing or IoT, cobots focus on enhancing the cooperation between human workers and industrial robots, unlike previous automation waves. Using cobots in manufacturing processes not only allows for a more efficient use of employees, it reduces health issues and raises motivation.
Via an SME support programme, COTEMACO engages with 60 SMEs from the automotive and food sectors through field labs. These regional field labs in the Netherlands, the UK, Belgium and Germany are showcasing key production steps in the automotive and food industries, in order to tackle current low sectorial awareness and knowledge gaps. The field labs will exchange knowledge on different manufacturing tasks, such as handling and (un)loading.
Cobots are brought closer to end-user SMEs through testing and interacting in the relevant industry conditions by SME management and other stakeholders in regional manufacturing economies. Working with 50 of the SMEs, COTEMACO is also working towards implementing collaborative robotics through international cooperation. This will maintain greater than €500M of regional turnover and over 1250 NWE manufacturing jobs and generate over €50M and more than 125 new jobs. Replication across other sectors and regions will ensure long-term financing sustainability of field labs (private contracts), exploring the potential of additional funding to be paired with regional sources.