Plant & Works Engineering
British manufacturing workers confident robots won’t take their jobs
Published:  02 June, 2017

Manufacturing workers in the UK are confident robots will not be taking their jobs over the next decade, according to a recent Epson survey. More than six in 10 (62%) said manufacturing roles will evolve rather than be replaced, while 59% are confident machines will not be able to replicate human qualities like flexibility, creativity and reaction.

While confident about retaining their jobs, British workers express optimism about the impact of technology on the manufacturing sector. More than two thirds (68%) think the quality of goods will increase as the result of innovation, while 64% agree that technology will reduce the impact on the environment.

Workers did share some concerns about the role of robots in manufacturing. Over seven in ten (72%) think robots will be able to take on more complex tasks that would take humans longer to master. Almost two thirds (64%) are concerned about cyber security, seeing it as the greatest obstacle to innovation. With the recent global ransomware attack disabling core infrastructure and websites, it’s clear manufacturers and software developers will need to get the security right.

The workers highlight 3D printing as a key technology for the sector over the next 10 years. Two thirds (66%) think the technology will enable companies to sell “licences to print” rather than the product itself, a theory that could have enormous implications for the UK economy.

Furthermore, over seven in 10 (71%) agree that advances in 3D printing will mean products are printed on demand rather than manufactured in bulk, potentially consigning Henry Ford’s assembly line to history. However, most respondents don’t envisage an easy path towards mass adoption of new technologies. More than half (55%) think organizations will struggle to keep up with regulatory requirements when integrating robots into existing architecture.

When asked about the impact of connectivity, just under half (49%) believe that greater automation will deliver faster and cheaper on-demand production, reassuring companies concerned about the impact of an ageing population on the cost of labour. Intriguingly, 48% of UK manufacturing workers think production facilities will be able to use tools like the IoT to remotely identify demand – raising the question of whether manufacturing jobs will be created in the market analysis fields. Less than half (45%) see supply chains becoming shorter and more tightly aligned, while two fifths (40%) believe there will be a convergence of suppliers, customers, and factories.

Finally, UK workers see Augmented Reality as a key technology over the next 10 years in the manufacturing sector. Over a third (34%) think AR, likely to be deployed via smart goggles, will enhance training and skills. In addition, respondents think the ability to see a virtual world overlaid on the physical landscape will result in greater product innovation (32%) and knowledge sharing (30%).

Commenting on the findings, Rob Clark, Epson managing director, stated, “it’s great to see that there’s so much enthusiasm for technological innovation in the manufacturing sector. Over the next 10 years, we’re going to see force-sensing robots become increasingly sophisticated, freeing up time for workers to concentrate on creative, value-adding tasks.”

“Technologies like 3D printing, Augmented Reality and the IoT are going to improve accessibility for customers and widen consumer choice. However, governments and organisations need to stay aware of the latest developments and invest in the most advanced technologies. In a globalised world, the UK cannot afford to fall behind competitors.”