Control, Alt, Delete: Facilitating the interruption, or not, of the workplaceMade News
On the 5th of September 2019, The Made in the Midlands group hosted its first ‘Best Practice’ networking breakfast of the month at Bauromat UK Limited. We’ve caught up with the company to reflect on the topic of automation, a central pillar to message given to the Made in Group members.
For those of you who were unable to attend the event, Bauromat is a leading robotics and automation systems integrator, who provides complete turnkey systems for a wide range of applications across all areas of the manufacturing process.
The tour took members of the Made in Family around Bauromat’s Telford site, where they were treated to a look at how automation can work, and the types of industries that it could, and is, being used in. However, before the tour, a Best Practice talk was given in which the topic of automation was a heavy focus. If you weren’t at the event, you can watch the full talk below.
From the talk, we asked Bauromat a range of questions about automation, why automation often gets a rotten name from the press, why the UK needs to play catch-up, and how can we facilitate the future of the British workplace. One of the things mentioned in the talk is how automation is not a by-product of Web 2.0, nor is it a product, or concept, created by Bauromat. It’s something that has gone on for centuries. As mentioned in the talk farming faced automation with the advent of the combine harvester, but as we’ve seen, it’s still here.
So, we asked John D’Angelillo, the Managing Director of Bauromat, to answer the question: For those members who may be interested in automation, how will automation be employed in manufacturing to ensure there are no job losses, and how does it encourage jobs gains?
“For those who fear automation, I think any first step, is to ask a direct question which is ‘what do you fear about it?’ In my experience, there are two people who fear it, the operatives and secondly, company owners who claim that ‘we have always done it like this, so why change? Businesses have to change to maintain the competitive edge, if your competitors are automating, their quality, reliability, costing and deliveries are going to be a showcase in comparison and eventually the credibility of a supplier will cross the road to the competition.
Automation within businesses that don’t have any, have to have a clear understanding of what they want to achieve, once this is cleared a hand in hand approach/guide is taken to confidently build the systems that meet the customers’ requirements and demands. In every company there are natural job losses, people change jobs, they retire, they want to do something else and these gaps at the point of automation introduction may not be replaced, however, the operatives of menial and repetitive task would be upskilled within the business and used elsewhere or use the automation equipment.
Within time; productivity grows, quality is maintained, product cost-effectiveness reduces, creating new opportunities, increasing orders, growing production, investing in more staff and eventually more automation, and in the long-term, creating more revenue for the economy.”
One of the other questions that were brought up was the topic of the workforce. With the retirement age looking to increase to a higher age, and technology improving at an increasing pace, how do we prepare workers for the digital skill gap when it comes to learning to use the automation and robotics? But is the saying of you can’t teach the old dog of generation X (1965 - 1976), or even Baby Boomers (1946 - 1964) new tricks even relevant?
“The skills gap is a problem as we have a generation of lost capabilities by the turnoff of wanting to promote apprenticeships in the early ’80s. This is now being addressed by governments and training centres where apprenticeships are now being seen as a positive, not everyone is capable or wants to go to university and the apprenticeship end result is eventually the same. The basic difference is at the end of an apprenticeship you have a useful skill, following a degree, you start your ‘apprenticeship!’
You need an understanding of the skill to adapt and use any form of automation, you can’t just tell it to ‘weld’, ‘assemble’, ‘inspect’ or whatever you require of the equipment. This is where upskilling comes into semi-skilled operations, where operatives can be taught to use the robot, and all manufacturers, as well as us as integrators, provide training services to ensure staff are fully confident in the automated process.”
However, with the talk of apprenticeships, we asked John what his view on the current state of education of the upcoming ‘next generation’ is, and whether the government is doing enough to prepare the workforce of tomorrow for the workplace of tomorrow.
“Although governments have introduced apprenticeship levy’s to promote apprenticeships, which is a must to maintain the skill gap, the message of confusion at school persists. Schools are judged and rated on how good they are, not on how many kids go into apprenticeships but on how many go into Universities and this is a big problem that needs addressing. There have to be two clear routes that are fed from the schools and both are for the benefit of our economy.”
It was also mentioned in the discussion how far behind the UK is in terms of automation when compared with its European and International peers. Numbers published by the International Federation of Robotics show that the UK is the only nation in the G7 with robot numbers below the global average, and as of 2017, the UK sits outside of the global top 20.
It was mentioned in the discussion about how the UK is falling behind other countries when it comes to automation, with this in mind we wanted to know a twofold question here: Firstly, why are we falling behind, and secondly what can be done to make sure that we're are not left behind?
“The reasons behind this is also part of a twofold mindset. One is that we had a culture of ‘hiring & firing’ based on increase and reduction of workload, the law has since changed and this attitude I think has slightly changed. Secondly the mindset of return of investment, company owners expect to return on their investment with 18 -24 months, which would make the component too costly for the investment
Our counterparts in Europe have a completely different approach, they look at the components that need automating, look at the cost of the automation and amortized over the life of the product, making the piece part acceptable and have the automation when there is a model/product change.
The government has to incentivize manufacturing companies to invest, either by giving short term tax incentives or interest-free loans to ensure that our manufacturing continues to contribute to the economy.”
We finished the discussion by asking John what had surprised or shocked him the most over his career in automation and robotics and for him, his first wow moment was the Fiat factory in Italy, where they built the Fiat Strada in 1979 - you can see the video in the advertisement below.
His second wow moment was when he visited the Yaskawa factory in Japan where he saw the process of robots building robots which he described as awesome, and spooky!
Bauromat UK Limited hosted a Made in the Midlands best practice breakfast on the 5th of September, 2019. You can see a full list of upcoming best practice events for the Midlands, here, and for Yorkshire here. Right now Bauromat UK Limited are offering a wide range of offers including a Free Automation Consultation, training for your workplace on robotics, and producing turnkey systems for all areas of manufacturing.