Are robots the future of British manufacturing?

How automation currently looks in British factories.

Britain has the world’s sixth-largest economy but we barely breach the top 20 when it comes to utilising the power of robotics. Take Germany for example – their economy is 50% larger than ours yet they have 10 times as many robots within their manufacturing facilities.

The UK was once the world’s most powerful economy by some great margin. At the dawn of the industrial revolution our success was assured by our initial willingness to invest when it came to the automation of production. From Jethro Tull’s seed drill, the Spinning Jenny and the assembly lines at the Royal Dockyards such innovation in production dramatically increased Britain’s output far beyond its capacity.

So, why did we fall out of love for automation and is our distrust of roboticisation a root cause of the slow decline of British manufacturing?

There seems to be an inherent distrust of robotics in the UK lead partly by a romanticism of the handmade and a fear that it will render human workers redundant. In fact, as Ruari McCallion says in a recent article in The Manufacturer, ‘If the last 250 years have taught the world anything, it is that automation creates jobs – the “leverage factor” has been estimated at 2.5-3.5 – and builds wealth; improving productivity is essential to competitiveness.’

In industries where we struggle to compete price wise, such fashion, automation should be seen as the key to securing a long-term future for Britain. Yes, there will always be a market for the handmade but a much greater global market exists for competitively priced products. Take a walk down any height street in the UK and you will be lucky to find even 1% of clothing stocked that is made in the Britain. Perhaps it is now time to fill our factories with robots and get more British made goods out there.

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