Improving innovation in UK manufacturing
Tharsus CTO Dave Swan explains improving innovation
At Tharsus, we have established an industry leading reputation by creating strategic machines that drive business results and make our partners more competitive. Although the machines we produce often involve expertise in the fields of UK robotics and automation, we call them strategic machines – and not robots. We do that for a number of reasons. One reason is that misinformation around robotics has created confusion in the business landscape, from the definition of what a ‘robot’ actually is through to how robotics technology should be used in business. Robotics done right can solve real business challenges. But applying robotics and automation to the wrong challenges can be a costly and time-consuming experiment.
At Tharsus, we believe in helping businesses take the right approach to robotics – from establishing clear goals to finding product market fit and setting KPIs to assess progress. Advanced machines have the potential to drive change for multiple industries. But they will only do that if they are focused on specific goals and used in a considered way. When that is the case, robotics can unlock innovation for a wide range of businesses and tackle fundamental challenges that transform an entire industry – just as we have helped Ocado to do.
Yet the enormous potential of robotics hasn’t yet been realised. Robots are not yet solving big, society wide challenges despite the hype in the press about self-driving cars, artificial intelligence and machine learning. This is one case where we might say ‘don’t believe the hype’ – at least not all of it. Because if companies don’t take a more considered approach, robotics may never advance beyond the fanfare and excitement stage – and we will fail to unlock the real positive change that robotics can deliver for businesses and the wider world.
That’s why our advice to companies thinking about tackling a problem with robotics is to first, assess the size of your challenge. Too many organisations start large robotics projects before stopping to think if they are best placed to take them on. If you are an enterprise manufacturer, do you really have the skills and resources to build robots on top of other business priorities? Is it important enough that you need to build a new solution yourself? Could you partner with someone else to share the costs? Or could the problem wait until the market creates an answer?
Then if it looks like robotics could provide a solution, the next step is to focus on the big problems. For instance, an agriculture business might want to investigate how robotics could help them better feed a population in the face of increasingly limited resources – instead of building a robot to pick oranges. Alternatively, in the energy sector, a business might want to ask how we could maintain a national power supply that maximises renewable energy sources – instead of building a robot that can maintain substations.
The point is that too many robotic projects invest millions of pounds into problems with little commercial return. Instead of focusing on replacing existing functions with robots, leaders should think about how to revolutionise their industry with strategic machines. When it comes to robotics, we have to look outside of the functions that already exist. After all, in the realms of business and innovation, it is those individuals who look beyond the status quo who truly disrupt it. As innovator, businessman and inventor of the first mass-produced car, Henry Ford, said: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
There are some key lessons business leaders can learn from companies like Ocado and BMW that are doing robotics the right way. From focusing on the right challenges to reinventing the way we work, but the ultimate lesson is that when it comes to robotics, necessity should always be the mother of invention. With the right approach to robotics, challenges can be truly transformative opportunities that help businesses to scale, drive competitive advantage and thrive for years to come.
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