The State of Automation in UK Manufacturing

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Since the unveiling of Henry Ford’s moving assembly line in 1913, automation has driven greater efficiencies within manufacturing. The continuous flow production methods developed at Ford’s Michigan Plant changed the way manufacturing inventory components and finished goods were assembled. Today, digital solutions and automation are forcing a transformation in global production and operations.

Automate or Stagnate

Organisations that made substantial early investment in contemporary digital systems continue to be among the leaders in their industry. Many companies that were slow to convert to new technologies are now noticeably falling behind.

When compared to other developed economies, the UK’s manufacturing industry has habitually devoted lower levels of capital investment to automation and robotics. They have a propensity toward maintaining existing plants and machinery rather than investing in new technologies.

To keep pace with global competition, it will be necessary for UK manufacturers to employ more technology and automation to their operations. In many industries, major competitors are installing robotic systems at a faster rate and this will most certainly lead to relatively lower levels of productivity for the UK.

There has however, been some progress made in certain sectors of UK manufacturing, particularly within the automotive industry. Other sectors are also now focussed on enabling both internal and external collaborations throughout their supply chains and in pursuing demand detection to improve forecasting.

For many businesses thinking of making the switch to business automation, the main challenge is the need for a short-term return on investment. This is coupled with a misguided perception of the cost and complexity of robotic systems and little awareness of the advantages of automation.

Benefits of Automation

Automation enables significant economies of scale by increasing the efficiency of operations, leading to massive reductions in cost per unit of manufacturing inventory. It further increases economies of scope whereby a manufacturing plant has the capacity to produce a diverse array of products from a single location.

The food manufacturing sector particularly, can benefit from innovative technology which has been proven to overcome staffing challenges by using automation to select, weigh and pack fresh produce.

Technology and automation also provides opportunities for expansion and growth through the creation of numerous manufacturing inventory solutions. For example, the UK’s composite materials sector is expected to experience radical growth, driven by the demand for the development of energy efficient structures.

The Impact on Employment

The statistics concerning the effect of automation on employment appear ominous. A recent McKinsey Report estimates that some 50 percent of jobs can, in theory, be automated. This number grows to around 60 percent when including those jobs that can be partially mechanised.

While this indicates significant decline in those manufacturing roles that involve the completion of routine tasks, it does not mean a loss of all employment opportunities within the manufacturing industry.

Currently, there is little evidence to suggest fewer jobs going forward. Rather there is every indication future employment opportunity will exist in manufacturing, not despite automation but because of it. The manufacturing industry is evolving, and manufacturing jobs will exist well into the future.

Yes, jobs that involve repetitive tasks may be declining but positions related to analytics, such as software development or programming are growing. Those jobs may look different, but those manufacturing jobs of the future will be more engaging and even better paid.

Support for R&D

The UK manufacturing industry is both broad and diverse and the UK government is investing billions of pounds into research and design to support those manufacturers who are advancing new technologies. The strategy shows a commitment to connected and autonomous research and seeks to attract the right investment in the right areas.

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Melanie - Unleashed Software

Article by Melanie Chan in collaboration with our team of Unleashed Software inventory and business specialists. Melanie has been writing about inventory management for the past three years. When not writing about inventory management, you can find her eating her way through Auckland.

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