Are robots taking UK manufacturing jobs? | EEF

Are robots taking UK manufacturing jobs?

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Are robot taking UK manufacturing jobsMany people are worried about how increasingly nimble, useful robots will impact the manufacturing workforce. With the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) now a reality in UK industry, the question of how to deploy robotics in a safe, cost-effective and data-driven way is even more relevant. Our 4IR and business growth expert Martin Strutt explains how robots and people can work together to make UK manufacturing smarter and more productive.

While many people have fears that robots will take over all manufacturing jobs, the reality is that robots will increasingly be a part of the manufacturer’s production processes. However, 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 (with cobot safety training, for example). 

And the change is already happening. Our latest 4IR survey of manufacturers found that nearly half of them have or soon plan to have fully autonomous robots. 
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 to undertake dextrous tasks such as assembly and packaging of products. Using sensors and cameras these robots are able to work alongside humans with programming done onsite. 

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. 
These skills include:

So, the reality is, manufacturing will continue to need skilled workers. However, these workers will potentially do different tasks and have different skill sets, as we discussed in our recent blog. In fact, manufacturers are heavily recruiting, with our members reporting that they have a hard time recruiting the skilled workforce they need. 

As discussed in our 4IR whitepaper, the use of data analytics, new production techniques and implementation of 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.

How to plan for change

While working with robots is likely inevitable, businesses should 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 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?
  • Do you have a tailored training plan for up-skilling your team?
  • Have you signed up your shop floor workers for Introduction to Robotics?
  • Do your health and safety and HR teams have the expertise and initiative to ensure policies and training for staff working with robots 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 chain and better customer service?

Our business consultants all have a firm background in UK manufacturing and understand the particular challenges of the industry. Schedule a visit with one of them to see how they could help your team.


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