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  • Hugo Walker

Automate UK’s latest report: In summary



81% of manufacturers view automation as their biggest challenge


The recent report by Automate UK highlights the centrality, and difficulty, of automation within the UK manufacturing sector. Tellingly, 81% of manufacturers view automation as their primary challenge.


Automate UK found positive growth in automation adoption among survey participants. 15.8% responded that their automation process was "growing significantly", while 63.2% responded they were "growing somewhat". Overall, that’s 79% of participants confirming that they’re moving in the right direction. 


Some of the key barriers to automation implementation that respondents recorded included:

  • Cost of investment

  • Unrealistic expectations

  • Knowledge of what’s available

  • Ability to find the right suppliers

  • Fear of failure

  • Ability to source finance

The survey also points to the integration of technology as a significant hurdle, compounded by a lack of skilled workforce to maintain and operate automated systems. This challenge is echoed by one business's feedback that the difficulty lies not in the automation technology itself but in having skilled personnel to manage it.


Automate UK’s recommendations


Automate UK made a number of recommendations to create an environment where automation is accessible, practical and fair.


Firstly, Automate UK has emphasised the need to nip the “robots take jobs” myth in the bud through education and gradual adoption. Relatedly, Automate UK highlights the deficit of skilled labour required to support automation, both in the implementation and maintenance stages. Technology does not have a 1-in-1-out, interchangeable relationship with labour; rather, technology and workers coevolve with each other. As automation is implemented, new opportunities and ways of working will present themselves. In fact, one of the biggest barriers to automation recorded by manufacturers was the lack of skilled staff who could manage the technology. 


Alongside automation, according to Automate UK, the industry needs to invest in training and education of workers to create a skilled labourforce that can keep on top of technological developments, and oversee automated processes.

 

Secondly, and very practically, Automate UK recommends that financial advice and automation guidance is provided, especially to SMEs. After all, two of the six most common concerns in the survey were related to finance and cost.


Thirdly, Automate UK perceptively outlines the importance of making sure that “the benefits of automation are shared equitably across society and that the potential negative impacts are mitigated”. Technology is a force; it can be used for good or bad; it can aid the distribution of wealth upwards or downwards. As a simple example, automation can be used to reduce unit costs: if this is passed to the consumer, the average person can have more disposable income; if this only translates into high profits, then the main benefactors are the shareholders.


Indeed, one of the main societal challenges in the age of automation is the threat of growing inequality. Akin to how washing machines contributed to a huge reduction in household labour and arguably helped women mitigate the gendered division of labour to enter the workforce, new technology can help us make strides in societal challenges when rolled out across the board, instead of being saturated among only the big shots in the industry. 


Overall, the findings suggest that while automation presents significant challenges for UK manufacturers, a strategic approach focusing on gradual implementation and workforce development can facilitate a smoother transition and broader adoption of these technologies.


Read the full report from Automate UK here.

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