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Robotics in Engineering

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17/08/2020

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Industry insight

Robotics in engineering can be traced back to the first use of automation in the early (3rd) Industrial Revolution. But now individual machines are connected to systems that make decisions about the production process in real-time, it’s clear that Industry 4.0 is rapidly changing the manufacturing and engineering industry. In order for employers to seize the commercial opportunities Industry 4.0 is creating, the manufacturing and engineering sector needs to evolve.

To adapt to the change, individuals, SMEs and large employers need the skills that will allow them to flourish, both now and in the future.

How robotics and automation will create jobs

Although many employees are concerned that robots may take their jobs, research from the International Federation of Robotics shows that automation actually creates new jobs by increasing productivity.

Engineering automation and robotics in a car factory.

In the US automotive industry, for example, 60,000 industrial robots were installed between 2010 and 2015. But, during the same period, the number of employees in the sector grew by 230,000. This is because, according to the McKinsey Global Institute, more than 90 percent of jobs will not be fully automatable in the future.

Instead of robots replacing humans in the coming years, it’s far more likely that robots and humans will work together more collaboratively to fully embrace the benefits of Industry 4.0. This is because robots can be used to complement and augment labour, rather than replacing workers.

By using robots and humans collaboratively in the workforce rather than in competition with each other, businesses can increase productivity, improve demand and become more competitive.

“Instead of robots replacing humans in the coming years, it’s far more likely that robots and humans will work together more collaboratively to fully embrace the benefits of Industry 4.0.”

The opportunities created by automation and robotics in engineering

Overall, automation provides the opportunity for humans to focus on higher-skilled, higher-quality and higher-paid tasks. This then also has a positive impact on wages, because robots drive an increase in demand for workers at the higher-skilled end of the spectrum. Meanwhile, it also provides an opportunity for middle and lower-income workers to upskill and retrain in order to take advantage of the new labour demand.

For these reasons, it appears as though fears that robots could put humans out of work are unfounded. Instead, BCG predicts a net addition of around 100,000 jobs to the UK’s workforce between now and 2025. So, with this in mind, what are these jobs likely to look like? And what skill requirement will the increasing demand for automisation produce?

“Automation provides the opportunity for humans to focus on higher-skilled, higher-quality and higher-paid tasks.”

Well, it seems likely that there will be substantial demand for completely new roles in the engineering industry as man and machine become further integrated. This will eventually lead to the creation of roles for ‘industrial data scientists’ and ‘robot coordinators’, which will both become commonplace.

In addition to this, it’s undoubted that some existing jobs will change almost beyond recognition. For example, maintenance engineers will view machinery remotely, order new parts for repairs off-site and be helped with decision-making processes by the machines they’re maintaining.

Changing roles in the workforce and the role of ‘cobots’

In terms of new roles in the workforce, in a BCG survey of managers of industrial companies, many respondents said that they expected to hire more people with qualifications in data security and data science in the coming years, with a particular focus on machine—machine/part communication. The survey also found that data management and programming were seen as important skills for both now and tomorrow.

As a result of all this, over the next decade or so, ‘cobots’ will become increasingly important in the manufacturing and engineering sectors. In 2016, cobot sales still only accounted for less than five percent of robot sales worldwide, but the industry will be valued at $3bn in 2020, according to estimates.

“We should be unafraid of change and embrace the oncoming wave of automation and robotics in the manufacturing and engineering sectors.”

The co-working relationship between humans and robots has already proved highly influential on the factory floor in places like SEW-Eurodrive’s factory in Baden-Württemberg. But, for robots to become further integrated with the human workforce in the future, new technology will be required to drive this integration.

All of this will become possible with the help of further improvements to augmented reality. This is a technology that will become increasingly vital as robots become able to predict when they will need maintenance, or even fix themselves.

From all the evidence of the past few years, it’s clear that robots will not replace the human workforce. Instead, the collaboration between man and machine will simply become more important than ever, and robots will actually provide humans with further employment opportunities by creating new roles in the workforce. As a result, we should be unafraid of change and embrace the oncoming wave of automation and robotics in engineering and manufacturing sectors.

This article was first published in RevEAL.

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You can learn more about robotics and automation on Engage: the online learning platform for Engineering and Manufacturing.

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Industry insight

Robotics in Engineering

Robotics in engineering can be traced back to the first use of automation in the early (3rd) Industrial Revolution. But now individual machines are connected to systems that make decisions about the production process in real-time, it’s clear that Industry 4.0 is rapidly changing the manufacturing and engineering industry.

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