It’s a debate that has stuck around for decades at this point – the ever increasing amounts of automation in the manufacturing industry. Started way back in the industrial revolution in the 1800s, machines have been an ever growing presence in pretty much every manufacturing sector in the world.
The UK, being at the forefront of the industrial revolution, has been a hotbed for technological innovation ever since. Every day it seems, a new ingenious machine rolls off the production line, that seemingly spells the end for one type of job. It can make the manufacturing sector look like one big tightrope walk for anybody looking to get into, or even stay in, the sector. But is automation something to be feared, or have we seen its ramification long enough to see the positives now too? Here are some positives and negatives for the UK manufacturer when it comes to automation.
“When the car came along, did it replace the train?” This is a sentence to keep in mind as we explore this positive, as this was the equivalent back then of “Will the 3D printer replace me?”. The simple answer to the car/train question is “No”. Yes, the car would become the default mode of transport for a lot of people. But the train industry is still going strong today because it adapted, and played to its strengths. They focussed on reliability for commuters in the face of rising car traffic. It switched its focus to long haul services that most cars are ill suited for. In essence, it evolved.
The same can be said for the manufacturing industry. A machine coming in might mean the replacement of one job, but it also means the creation of more. If you are someone looking to get into the manufacturing business, you are primed to be a bridge between the skills of the past, the present and the future. The basic skills of making things with tools are still applicable – its just the tools that are changing. And people will always need things made. You just have to be ready to evolve with the industry.
One problem with the “evolve” way of thinking, however, is that technology is evolving almost too fast to keep up in some cases. Consider the changes that have come along just in the past 10 years – it’s scary how fast things have changed. It gets to the point that even someone graduating this year from University will be obsolete within a year if they don’t keep up with change. This is do-able, of course, but it isn’t easy to always have your finger on the pulse of what is coming.
“Adapt to survive” – Darwinism at its finest. As we touched on above, the evolving job market is something newcomers to manufacturing can feel they can get on top of. But what of those who have spent their life honing their craft, and perhaps aren’t capable of retraining from scratch? How do they stay employed when the day comes that a machine arrives to do their job for them?
Take the old business adage of Unique Selling Points. USPs are the aspects of a product that differentiate it from all others on the market. This phone has a great set of speakers, this one has the fastest processor, this one is heavily customisable, etc.. If you have been making things for 20 years, your USP is your experience, and there is a big market for it still. As machines have taken over, the call for “hand made” products has only risen. Your experience is worth something, if you can find the right avenue for it, either as part of a hand made company, or going into business for yourself.
Unfortunately, there are occasionally technological advances that make entire sectors obsolete, regardless of prior skill. The cassette tape faced this with CDs.The penny farthing bike faced this with when modern bicycles were invented. This is an unfortunate aspect of an industry always pushing for innovation. Hopefully, this fate won’t befall you. If this article has opened your eyes, seek out any training course you can to “future proof” yourself. The better prepared you are, the better your chances of surviving any new wave of automation coming your way.