Automation – the missing piece of the productivity puzzle

Ahead of the Automation Conference on March 2, 2016, Nicholas Cox takes a closer look at how companies like BMW are using robotics and humans to achieve automation.

ABB robot 1 rs
By embracing the automation innovations, we have the opportunity to address productivity problems within manufacturing.

The BBC’s Building Cars Live, proved to be a fascinating insight into the processes and technology of the sophisticated BMW Mini factory in Oxford, among other examples.

Although aimed at the layman and arguably closer to entertainment than documentary, I was incredibly impressed by the level of automation on display.

With a new vehicle rolling off the production line every 67 seconds, it was acutely apparent from the outset that this was one of the leanest and most efficient plants I have ever seen – and I’m no stranger to the factory floor thanks to my time at The Manufacturer.

Automate UK – growth through automation

The Automation Advisory Board Thought Leadership Network’s annual conference, Automate UK will provide the opportunity to hear from industry experts not only making the case for automation equipment, but showcasing what is available and it’s capabilities.

By learning from the most innovative manufacturers embracing automation – including BMW Mini; Jaguar Land Rover; Aston Martin; Glaxo Smith Kline; Accolade Wines; Greencore Group; Lambert Engineering; Philips AVENT; Brother Industries, and GKN Aerospace, Automate UK offers a unique benchmarking and learning experience to all those who attend.

With the limited free places available expected to go quickly, you’ll need to be swift to secure your place before full price tickets will be the only option available.

Find out more information here.

This ruthless efficiency is a function of the automation on display, from ultra-sonic testing capabilities and assured quality of spot welds, to collaborative robotic arms assisting technicians lifting and manipulating components and everything in between.

It was also refreshing to see the level of employee engagement on site. For far too long, stories of successful automation projects have been tainted with questions regarding the future of manufacturing and whether robots will displace human workers altogether.

This show, however, offered a welcomed antidote to these naysayers by showcasing the positive effects of automating previously manual processes on the workforce.

At this point, it’s all too easy to subside into a list of cold facts and figures that makes the case for automation purely by looking at the bottom line; and yes it’s true that with the cost of labour rising in the West and initiatives such as the living wage very much on the political agenda, the case for greater automation is increasingly persuasive.

Yet, what I took from this programme was that although there was a sea of robotic arms on display, it was very much a collaboration between the employees and their robotic counterparts singing in harmony to complete tasks in frequencies and to a level of accuracy incomprehensible without the assistance of modern technology.

The message here was very much – robots are better with humans as opposed to than humans. Automating the dangerous, dirty and repetitive jobs allows the operatives to have the opportunity to retrain and moved into greater value added tasks within the factory.

We are constantly told that the UK is lagging behind competitors when it comes to productivity levels; by embracing the automation innovations, we have the opportunity to address these problems within our manufacturing base, while simultaneously up-skilling our workforce and hopefully providing them with greater job satisfaction to boot- a no-brainer surely?