Experts Call for More Robotics in the UK Food Industry

UK food processors must reconsider their resistance to automation if they are to keep up with European competitors, experts have warned.

During this year’s Foodex conference, a panel of industry specialists emphasised the significance of robotics in the seminar “Stealing our jobs: Can robots solve the skills crisis?” There was a unanimous sense of frustration as they discussed the financially conservative and regressive attitudes among Britain’s food business operators. 

Mike Wilson, Business Development Manager at ABB, was especially concerned by how UK technology compared to that across the EU: “We currently have 39 robots per 10, 000 workers in the UK in general manufacturing – Germany has 181. They’re a long way ahead of us, as are France, Spain, Italy – all of our major competitors.”

“I think the main reason for that has largely been cultural.” He continues “We tend to keep our old machinery running, rather than investing in new equipment and new technology. So, there’s a great opportunity to utilize the latest technologies.”

The panel also addressed the prevalent belief that investing in automation would cost human jobs. Wilson insisted this is not the case; he noted that robots could simply fulfil the more monotonous tasks;

“It’s not about doing really clever things that are pushing the edge in terms of technology, it’s about utilizing solutions that already exist, simple things like palletizing. We still have people on the end of production lines putting boxes on pallets and maybe that’s a job that ought to be automated.”

Wilson’s optimism was contradictory to a recent report by Centre for Cities which estimated that robotics could threaten up to 3.6 million British jobs by 2030. Despite the findings, Centre for Cities chief executive, Andrew Carter, remained hopeful. He suggested that while traditional jobs may suffer, automation could open up a plethora of high-skilled opportunities if handled correctly. He explains;

“That means reforming the education system to give young people the cognitive interpersonal skills that they need to thrive in the future and improving school standards especially in places where jobs are most at risk.”

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