Automation – Is it good or bad?

The question has been around for years – is the always increasing amount of automation throughout the entire manufacturing industry a good or a bad thing? This is a debate that has been rumbling on since the industrial revolution, and has touched every sector of manufacturing.

This debate hits pretty close to home in the UK. As we were very much a front runner in the industrial revolution, we have seen thousands upon thousands of inventions come from this tiny isle since the 1800s. A new game changing machine seems to be rolling out of the factory every day, hell bent on seemingly ending a certain kind of job through automation. It makes the whole manufacturing industry quite the tight balancing act, fraught with peril. But is automation really this all consuming monster? Or is it ultimately a force for good? Here are some of the positives and negatives.

Positive – Jobs evolve

Innovation and change are just a part of life. Good products and people don’t truly get left behind – they best of them adapt. Look at trains. When they were invented they must have seemed like the absolute apex of transportation, which would be impossible to replace. Then the car came along. Did trains disappear? No, they just adapted, playing to their strengths, such as more horsepower for haulage, fast long distance travel, and reliability compared to the havoc of rush hour traffic.

Similar things can be said about the manufacturing industry. One new machine coming in may mean another becomes antiquated, but the new machine will also create a job as well. Those coming into the industry have the chance to bridge the gap between the past, present and future – they can learn the skills of old, utilise the “tools” of today, and learn adaptability skills that will future-proof their career.

Negative – Non-stop

Of course, the speed at which the industry moves now is lightyears ahead of the relative snail’s pace it used to move at. It can be an almost impossible struggle to keep up with all the changes and new innovations, especially if you are “set in your ways”, so to speak.

Your degree in engineering could be obsolete within 12 months in some industries, as is the speed of change. If you can’t adapt quickly enough, the industry will leave you behind, taking in the next wave of graduates in your place. So keeping an eye over your shoulder to see what is coming at all times might be a constant in your career.

Positives – “Hand made”

Let’s say you are just too out of touch to adapt to new, computerised machinery, or have no desire to change anyway. What then? You have skills there is no doubt about that, but what your industry wants is moving away from what you can bring to the table.

Then you adapt in a different way. Instead of changing your skill set, you move your skillset elsewhere. For all of its advantages, automation isn’t what all consumers want. Some will pay good money for something that is made traditionally, which is where your skills come in. Your 30+ years of experience have value, you just have to be able to put them to use in the right niche. you might find the venture to be even more lucrative than your previous job!

Negatives – Obsolete

The fear of being replaced is really what drives the negative opinions on automation. Usually this is focused on the individual worker, but sometimes there will come an innovation so overwhelming that it will sink an entire industry. 15 years of making cassette tapes won’t have counted for much when the CD arrived. The call for penny farthing bikes dropped off to non-existance once the modern bicycle was unveiled. Unfortunately, this is just an unavoidable downside of the manufacturing industry, and can happen to any sector at any time.

How do you prevent this fate from happening. You “future proof” yourself. Whether you have finished this article thinking that automation is a good or a bad thing, you have hopefully become aware of the need to be ready for what the future brings (whether it helps or hinders you). Seek out any training you can that means when the inevitable wave of innovation comes crashing down, you aren’t swept away underneath it.