industrial exoskeleton

Get more done: why now is the time to automate

Image credit: SARCOS

You just can’t get the staff these days. So is this going to be the year of automation?

Economic indicators are mixed but worrying. Towards the end of last year, the government began to talk up the post-pandemic, post-Brexit economy as the dawn of a high-wage, high-tech, high-skills economy. Can they really make such a cause-and-effect link? What might be missing from the equation?

The UK’s missing productivity is a long running economic mystery and a hugely complex problem. Chris Edwards kicks of our special issue on productivity and investment by examining the roots of the problem and the range of measures that will be needed to lift the UK out of its decades long productivity slump in ‘Zombie Nation’.

The UK lags behind most of its competitors in automation and robotics. Is the post-pandemic and post-Brexit environment of rising wages and vacancies the pressure industry needs to invest to catch-up? If so, how?

James Hayes looks at four very different corporate responses from industry – from the do little artisanal approach to all-in with state-of-the-art automation in a smart factory.

Then we look ahead to more extreme automation technologies of the future. Emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning and more in programming and analytics, combined with big data from processes and the field, are expected to take the automation opportunities much further. It all adds up to the latest buzzword sweeping factory and office floors alike and that’s ‘hyperautomation’.  It promises to join everything up, taking in whole workflows from beginning to end across locations and departments, creating digital twins for testing and prediction, and this data led instead of process led approach could make unexpected connections and discover surprising opportunities.

How do people fit into all this? The future of automation is also appearing more personal and perhaps a little scary. Would you have a chip embedded in your hand to make like easier for yourself or your employer? Nick Smith meets some people who’ve done it already, with digital keys or payment at the wave of an arm. Would you agree to be microchipped like a pet to improve your employer’s automation processes? It sounds like science fiction but it’s already started in the US. I am doubtful so many employees in Europe will want to make that level of commitment for reasons of dignity as well as privacy. But read and make up your own mind.

Exoskeletons are another potential way to make workers more productive. The pictures like that pictured above tend to remind us of badass cyborgs righting the wrongs of humans. But behind the scenes their use has been steadily growing in industry. What’s the attraction? That is, apart from making you feel like a muscle-bound superhero and bringing a new meaning to worker power? Lindsay James finds out.

Happy New Year to our readers and let’s all hope it’s going to turn out better than the last few!

automation impact graphic


Image credit: McKinsey/E&T

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