Robotic Invasion or robotic assistance?

Hollywood would have you believe that robots are coming if films like Terminator, Transformers and Wall-E are to be believed. Although a new generation of robots is on its way, with likely changes to the factory floor, I don’t think we have to worry about a robotic takeover anytime soon!

According to a recent report by Barclays Bank, investing £1.2 billion into manufacturing processes in order to increase robotics and automation over the next decade could result in as much as £60.5 billion to the UK economy.
Such a positive statistic, yet Britain still seems to be on the back foot when it comes to using robots in Manufacturing. The UK certainly has an advanced manufacturing economy and a rich and strong history, but even then the take up of robots is only 71 robots per 10,000 manufacturing employees. If we compare this to other countries there is a stark difference; almost 500 in South Korea, about 300 in Japan and Germany, and nearly 200 in Denmark and Sweden.

There has been slow take-up of robots by UK industry and it seems one of the challenges is changing attitudes and dispelling the inherent fear of technology that ensues when the topic of robots and work is discussed. However, if we look back at how robotic automation has effected industry, it’s clear to see that yes there have been some cases of job losses, but at the same time many new roles have developed, according to Guy Michaels– Economics professor at the London School of Economics. The automotive industry uses a number of industrial robots in production, but human workers still contribute to wiring and operations such as wheel clamp installation.

There is no denying that robots are quicker and accurate in certain tasks. They don’t need to take a break and can be used effectively for more repetitive tasks. Instead of viewing this as a takeover of human tasks perhaps we should view it as an opportunity to use staff more efficiently elsewhere.

Research suggests that robotics will see a new chapter, with lightweight robots which can work and collaborate with people. BMW have introduced collaborative robots to their assembly lines. These human friendly robots perform the final assembly of car doors. Robots work with a door sealant that restricts sound and water. The robots haven’t replaced workers but helped them to perform their daily tasks.

Robots have come a long way in the past 10-15 years. Once they were behind defences because they were dangerous machines but they are beginning to work alongside humans, even learning from them to perform an increasing number of manufacturing tasks. Hopefully, a step in the right direction when it comes to contribution to the UK economy.

By Kam Dhinsa

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