Robots won’t replace the workforce, but they will change it. EEF’s Verity Davidge discusses some of the vital planning issues manufacturers must commit to if they are to build a smarter, more productive business.
Many people are worried how increasingly nimble and flexible robots will impact the manufacturing workforce.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is now a reality, and the question of how to deploy robotics in a safe, cost-effective and data-driven way is becoming ever more relevant.
Just how will robots and people work together to make UK manufacturing smarter and more productive?
While many people fear that robots will take over all manufacturing jobs, the reality is that robots will increasingly be part of production processes. Many of these robots will actually be ‘cobots’ – collaborative robots that help people do their job faster and better.
Additionally, robots and new technology are just one part of the 4IR revolution. By implementing 4IR, manufacturers will need to recruit new types of workers (such as data analysts) and up-skill their existing workforce (for example, with cobot safety training).
These changes are already happening. Robots are already used in some sectors to undertake repetitive but precise tasks as part of the assembly line process. However, multi-functional robots and cobots are a step up.
One large-scale manufacturer is using these machines to undertake dexterous tasks, such as the assembly and packaging of products. Using sensors and cameras these robots are able to work alongside humans with programming done onsite.
This article first appeared in the March issue of The Manufacturer magazine. To subscribe, please click here.
New skills needed
The use of data analytics, new production techniques and the implementation of advanced technologies (such as autonomous robots, multi-purpose production lines and augmented reality) helps to improve yield and speed up production.
This allows new business models to be pursued, such as mass customisation.
To achieve these changes, employers will need a multi-skilled workforce – people who can take care of a wide range of problems that may arise in the day-to-day operation of manufacturing.
So, the reality is that manufacturing will continue to need skilled workers. However, these workers will potentially do different tasks and have different skill sets.
In fact, manufacturers are already heavily recruiting, but our members report that they have a hard time finding the skilled workforce they need.
While working with robots is almost inevitable, businesses should still be planning their integration as part of an overarching and robust 4IR strategy.
After all, implementing new technology is only effective if it is carefully considered as part of business growth and with input from a wide cross-section of organisational leaders.
Here are just a few considerations for implementing robots in the workplace:
- Have you updated for data protection policies and procedures to comply with the new GDPR legislation and to take into account additional data gathering and cybersecurity risks required by 4IR and robotics? See: services.eef.org.uk/GDPRHRguide
- Do you have a tailored training plan for up-skilling your team? See: bit.ly/2FV4XDF
- Have you signed up your shop floor workers for Introduction to Robotics? See: bit.ly/2ERZ1fr
- Do your health and safety and HR teams have the expertise and initiative to provide the necessary policies and training for staff working with robots, so that they are able to do their job safely and compliantly?
- Have you worked with a 4IR consultant to help develop a strategic plan that identifies your particular opportunities for increased productivity, efficient supply chains and better customer service? See: bit.ly/2EckPVW
If you commit to a structured, well-planned approach then you can make your business both smarter and more productive.