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I've seen the future - and it's automated!

28 March 2011

Chris Buxton – CEO of Processing & Packaging Machinery Association visits the Automate 2011 Show only to find robotics and food production are fast becoming synonymous

Read the following opinion from Chris Buxton (CEO of the Processing & Packaging Machinery Association incorporating BARA, the UK Industrial Vision Association and the Polymer Machinery Manufacturers and Distributors Association) regarding the Automate 2011 Show:

I recently attended the Chicago-based Automation & Robotics Show, Automate 2011. As I walked the vast halls of the Chicago McCormick Centre where the show is held, I couldn't help feeling I was looking through a portal to the future and the words of that infamous song came to mind; 'I've seen the future...and it works!'

Three things were striking about my visit. First, the recovery of the world economies after the recent recession has been accompanied by a huge surge in the adoption of robotics and vision technology.

The second was the thrust of this new surge wasn't just in the automotive sector where robotics has long been well established but was in relatively 'automation-virgin' sectors such as Food Processing.

In fact the growth in the use of robotics in the UK food sector over the last four years has been 238% whilst that in the automotive sector has actually shrunk by 27%!

My third revelation was it emerged from a meeting of the International Federation of Robotics (IFR); (the main reason for my attendance), that the country adopting robotics faster than anywhere else in the world is China!

Yes, that infamous low overhead economy with more cheap labour than we can shake a chop-stick at is adopting robotics faster than you can eat your sweet and sour chicken! And there are nearly 1.4 billion Chinese mouths to feed. This is big potential business for anyone in the food processing industry.

This interesting fact about the Chinese and other low overhead economies, (India is hot on their heels), only serves to emphasise the fact that the adoption of automation, robotic and vision technology is not just about cost savings.

It's about quality, consistency, efficiency and meeting global demand for new products and most important of all, the growing demands of the food supply chain. Some industries such as the all important consumer electronics industry could not even survive without Robotics.

Before anyone becomes 'exercised' about the claimed loss of jobs I should also relate another interesting (though for me, unsurprising), fact.

At Automate 2011, the IFR general assembly reviewed the results of a recent study which shows that the appropriate use of robotics doesn't actually take away jobs - it creates them! Probably to the tune of about a million a year for the past ten years although they're currently honing these figures.

The reasons behind this analysis are the subject of a more substantial article than this one but are based on the simple facts that more successful and efficient industries employ more people; some new industries cannot survive without robotics and therefore have created new jobs and that there is a whole supply chain downstream of the core production process which has created a vast number of new jobs.

This includes the food sector and is only accelerated by the development of hitherto unavailable technology capable of meeting the exacting and stringent Cleaning in Place requirements of the food industry. The data speaks for itself.

Trust me - I have seen the future - and it's automated!


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