Companies will use more automation and robotics in the near future due to labour shortages caused by Brexit, industry stakeholders have predicted.
Manufacturers of small collaborative robots (‘cobots') - which are up to 10 times less expensive than traditional manufacturing models - say that orders have surged as concerns about the UK losing easy access to the EU labour pool have risen.
Mark Gray, UK sales manager for Danish bot-maker Universal Robots, told trade magazine The Manufacturer, "In the past month I've sold six cobots to companies that are struggling to find staff because eastern Europeans either aren't coming over in sufficient numbers or are returning home."
Car companies, including Jaguar Land Rover and the BMW Group, use cobots in their UK production lines, reports The Times. They are often used in places where there would not be room for standard robots.
Cobots are designed to work alongside humans, rather than replace them; for example, taking on repetitive tasks, helping companies to compete with those in lower-cost markets such as Asia.
Restaurants and bars are also using cobots. Mofongo's Distillery and Cocktail Bar, has been using a robot arm to retrieve drinks since 2013; and a Tokyo restaurant uses a cobot to box up takeaway dumplings.
Because of the safety features built in to cobots, such as force-limiting sensors and soft overlayer, they can be used alongside human workers rather than in a completely separate area.
A study released by MIT says that robots and humans working together are more productive than either working alone.
Mark Bridger, VP of OpenText UK, said:
"From a productivity perspective, we spend a third of our time in the workplace collecting and processing data. AI and robotics could all but eliminate this work, freeing us up from time-consuming administration and allowing us to focus on other more creative or rewarding aspects of our jobs. We should stop viewing AI as an existential threat to employment. AI technology cannot replace people but it can work alongside humans to boost business productivity and make employees' lives easier."
According to the International Federation of Robotics, the UK has up till now been a slow adopter - with about 71 robots per 10,000 workers. France has 132 and hyper-efficient Germany uses 309.
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