On the back of crisis, robotics is transforming Spain’s industry

By Jordi Pelegrí, Country Manager of Universal Robots in Spain

In recent years, industries in Spain have received an unwanted master’s degree in resilience and in how to adapt to change. On top of the global pandemic, we have had to deal with supply crises and excessive inflation in the cost of raw materials, showing us in the cruelest way that we are far from industrial autonomy.

The lesson has been hard, but it has also given us decades of experience in just a couple of years. And with the Achilles heel of our productive structure now becoming apparent, we now understand that a digital transformation of our companies is inevitable. Not only the larger ones, which have been automating their processes for years, but also the small ones, and also those located far from the great industrial centers of Barcelona, Madrid, Porto, Valencia or Bilbao.

The positive news is that automation technologies are already there, waiting to be utilized, and that they can help solve some of Spain’s biggest issues when it comes to manufacturing.

Skill shortage has lead to investment in education

Like in many other countries, one of the biggest problems is the shortage of skilled workers. Although unemployment in Spain was over three million people in 2022, we have problems filling vacancies, for example, in tasks such as welding. There are 109,000 unfilled jobs in Spain, according to the employer association Cepyme. This problem reveals a mismatch between the needs of companies and the skillset of the workforce. Faced with this situation, many SMEs are adopting collaborative robotics to cover work shifts and carry out production.

Faced with this imbalance in the labor market, governments have made a move. The Spanish Ministry of Education is promoting specialization courses in Vocational Training aimed at graduates specializing in sectors with a high level of employability. One of these initiatives is the Higher Vocational Training Specialization Course in Collaborative Robotics: 400 hours long, this course is dedicated to the development of projects of both robotic arms and autonomous mobile robots.

This is a great initiative because, time and again, we see that investing in education leads to employability and the transformation of companies. Almost ten years ago, back in 2014, we started collaborating with the regional Government of Navarra in Spain to incorporate Universal Robots collaborative robots into the community’s VET-system (Vocational Education and Training). More than 15,000 students have benefited from this project. The results have been a greater awareness in the companies of the area about the possibilities of collaborative robotics.

Small businesses, big expectations

In Spain, SMEs represent 99.8% of companies and generate 66% of business employment, according to the Strategic Framework for SME Policy 2030 of the Ministry of Industry. Low productivity, limited export capacity and little investment in innovation are some of the difficulties that these types of companies usually face. The result is usually low competitiveness. According to Eurostat data, in Spain the sales of a large company are equivalent to 315,000 euros per worker, while in an SME the value is 62% lower (122,000 euros).


The implementation of automation technologies has often been left out of reach for small and medium-sized businesses for budgetary reasons. However, in a context of digitalization and competition on a global scale, falling behind technologically is not an option. Therefore, many companies are finding collaborative robotics to be a great first step on their automation journey, as cobots can work in small spaces, don’t require extensive programming skills, and can solve a wide range of tasks. This empowers SMEs to optimize their processes, increase productivity and solve the shortage of skilled workers – all of this contributing to making businesses more competitive.

This is reflected in the figures as well. “In Spain the percentage of cobots on the total of industrial facilities is estimated to be over 10% for some years,” says Alex Salvador, manager of the Spanish Association of Robotics and Automation (AER Automation). It is a percentage higher than the world average, “which reaffirms the Spanish leadership at European level in this field,” he adds.

In addition, preparing Spanish industry for the future is one of the strategic priorities of the Spanish Government. For example, within the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan that mobilizes the resources of the Next Generation EU fund, the Ministry of Industry awarded 9.97 million euros to Industry 4.0 projects. The Spanish Government has also approved the preliminary draft of a new Industry Law. Its objective is to place Spanish industry at the forefront, and supporting digitalization is undoubtedly one of the key levers.

New opportunities for 'empty Spain '

The territorial imbalance in Spain is another challenge that is encouraging automation. It is easy to quantify this imbalance with an example: of the 3.36 million companies in Spain in 2021, 622,967 were located in Catalonia. On the other hand, in Castilla y León, which is the geographically largest autonomous community of the country, there were only 157,131 companies.

The point is that there is a growing awareness of the need to protect rural territories against depopulation, disinvestment, and loss of infrastructure. And the arrival of projects based on robotization not only attracts young talent that energizes these areas, but also improves the competitiveness of local companies.

This just underlines the importance of increased investments in automation and robotics and shows how Spain is a great example of how cobots can help businesses develop and grow in an everchanging world.

Universal robots

Facts on industrial automation in Spain:

  • Spain ranked 10th on global stock of operational robots in 2021 (Source: IFR World Robotics 2022)
  • Most of Spain’s industrial robots are deployed in the automotive industry (50%) and the metal industry (13%) (Source: IFR World Robotics 2022)
  • Between 2023 and 2063, Spain’s potential workforce of people aged 15-64 will diminish by more than 10 million people (Source: UN World Population Prospects)
Jordi PelegríCountry Manager of Universal Robots Spain

Jordi Pelegrí is the Country Manager of Universal Robots Spain.

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