23 Jul 2024

AUTOMATION FOR MANUFACTURING

Meeting the need for instant gratification

There is increasing pressure for immediate results. Nikesh Mistry*, Gambica’s sector head for automation, argues that automation can help to meet this demand, acting as powerful tool for progress, not just for businesses, but for society as a whole.

The current societal appetite for instant gratification is undeniable. From same-day grocery deliveries to 10-minute bike rentals, convenience has become king. But can our traditional systems keep pace with this ever-growing demand? The answer lies in automation, and its embrace is not just an option – it’s an essential evolution for the UK market to remain competitive.

 
The pressure is on. Consumers, accustomed to the lightning-fast speed of digital interactions, now expect physical deliveries to mirror that immediacy. Click-and-collect in two hours is no longer cutting-edge; it’s the new baseline. Prime, Uber, Zipcar and Deliveroo are all examples of brands who offer same-day services. Online giants like Amazon have set sky-high delivery expectations, applying pressure on other businesses to adapt.
This shift is driven by several factors. The tech-savvy Millennial and Gen Z generations, raised on instant-access technology, will not accept waiting days for their basic needs. Time-pressed urban populations crave the convenience of immediate deliveries and look likely to become even more demanding for services which now take longer than a few days. 
 
However, apart from the large market-dominating companies, our infrastructure currently struggles to meet these demands. Manual processes are a bottleneck on efficiency, increasing costs and delivery times. Human error adds another layer of complexity, potentially delaying orders or compromising deliveries. These pressures can be found in many industries and are, of course, evident in UK manufacturing. The UK market cannot afford these lags. To thrive in this “instant everything” era, automation has become a fundamental necessity.
 
Embracing automation offers several compelling benefits, including increased efficiency. Using automated systems such as robots and AGVs (automated guided vehicles) in warehouse management, reduces picking, packing and delivery times significantly. Naturally this helps to cut costs because automating repetitive and mundane tasks lowers labour costs, allowing businesses to complete processes, offer deliveries and maximise efficiency, at competitive prices and then to utilise their skilled workers in other, more practical areas.
 
Another benefit is obviously the repeatability of automation and robotics,. Round-the-clock operations allow automation to run continuously, enabling non-stop processing and fulfilment, even during off-peak hours.
For many UK manufacturers, embarking on an automation journey will reap increased customer satisfaction, wider reach, improved profitability, and a competitive edge. For consumers it means faster deliveries, wider product availability, and cost-effective options.
 
Of course, as always there will be valid concerns over automation. Job displacement is a common fear, and it’s crucial for it to be addressed and not ignored. While some roles may change, automation not only generates more work, but also creates new opportunities. The focus should be shifting towards upskilling and reskilling the workforce to adapt to the evolving job market. Additionally, automation-related investments can drive economic growth and create new jobs in sectors such as technology and logistics.
 
As with previous revolutions, responsible implementation is key. Ethical considerations such as data privacy and responsible AI development must be addressed to ensure automation serves and benefits everyone. Chat GPT and other AI software is becoming more widely used and it is imperative that we continue to use these tools safely and take due precautions. 
The UK market has a simple choice: to embrace automation and become a leader in delivering immediate satisfaction, or risk falling behind. While challenges exist, they are surmountable. With proper planning, investment and responsible implementation, automation can be a powerful tool for progress, not just for businesses, but for society as a whole.
The path to instant gratification, once a luxury, is now a necessity. By harnessing the power of automation, the UK can unlock further potential, creating a win-win situation for businesses, consumers and the economy. 
* Gambica is the trade association for the automation, control, instrumentation and laboratory technology sectors in the UK. You can get in touch with Nikesh Mistry on 020 7642 8094 or nikesh.mistry@gambica.org.uk, or via the Gambica Web site: www.gambica.org.uk