New-shoring is set to transform roles in our factories and lead to higher production levels, as Diego Tamburini, senior design & manufacturing industry strategist at Autodesk explains.
While there has been significant commentary about the impact of automation and robotics on UK manufacturing jobs – 1.2 million positions are under threat, according to new figures from PwC – little has been said about new-shoring, a growing trend that is set to transform roles in our factories and lead to higher production levels.
Manufacturing is one of the highest risk professions to be affected by advanced robotics; with many traditional roles that have been deemed too dangerous or repetitive for humans to carry out being replaced by machines.
That said, there has long been a trend in the UK to offshore manufacturing to emerging markets, where organisations have access to cheaper labour.
With the rise of robotics however, production is returning to established centres from overseas and creating new jobs in the process. Today, manufacturing businesses require more specialist skills and labour to operate, manage and maintain these more advanced machines and software programs.
Productivity levels in the UK are also increasing: with less of a reliance on overseas labour, manufacturing can be carried out closer to the source and the customer, reducing shipping overheads in the process.
So, how is new-shoring set to shape the industry?
- Wages will become less of a focus: While it has traditionally been more cost effective to outsource labour abroad, the advancement of robotics has reduced the need to off-shore. That said, the total number of jobs on the factory floor have reduced; a natural consequence of automation. But, factory workers needn’t fear – new roles will be created, and manufacturers will have to move production closer to academic centres and local skilled workers in order to retrain their existing workforces.
- Closing the manufacturing skills gap will be critical: As the rise of Industry 4.0 marches on, many UK manufacturers are already struggling to recruit skilled workers – a recent report from EEF highlighted that 35% of manufacturing vacancies are described as ‘hard-to-fill’. This issue is only set to worsen as workers increasingly come to collaborate more with robots and take on new jobs that don’t even exist yet. Workplace training will need to be readdressed, with apprenticeships, internal assessment programmes, online courses and reverse mentoring all being brought in to close the current skills gap.
- Service jobs in manufacturing will rise: Factories of the future will be powered by advancements in robotics, but also, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, machine learning and smart manufacturing. As a knock-on effect, roles that were once considered outside of traditional manufacturing, such as predictive maintenance and data analysis, will be in high demand. For example, embedding sensors into machines to monitor their performance over time will become commonplace to ensure that equipment failure can be identified and detected before it causes a delay along the supply chain. Such roles are highly specialist and will require individuals to have the technical skills to gather, monitor, analyse and interpret volumes of data generated by the machines.
- New-shoring will continue with Industry 4.0: Further technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality will also lead to increased local production through remote assistance. Imagine an industrial machine breaking down in a Brazilian workshop, for instance. As the machine was manufactured in Germany, the local worker can’t figure out how to fix it, and so production would stop, resulting in significant loss of revenue, until an expert could be flown to the plant to resolve the issue. Using VR goggles however, an expert could look over the local worker’s shoulder remotely and work with them collaboratively to assist with the repair, as if they were physically in the plant themselves. These technologies are starting to emerge already, but we’ll need to see a significant cost reduction and successful use cases highlighted in the industry before the tools take off and contribute further to new-shoring.
The rise of automation has caused widespread concern across the manufacturing industry, with many workers fearing for their jobs and career prospects. But, new roles are emerging as robotics continue to bring production back to established manufacturing centres.
If manufacturing businesses are to take advantage of the growing new-shoring trend, all their efforts must be poured into reskilling their existing workforces and training up new recruits to ensure they can meet the demands of tomorrow’s production line. Automation is not the enemy, lack of skills is.