AUTOMATION; AND FACTORIES OF THE FUTURE

Everywhere you read these days of an increasing future expectation that many jobs will ultimately be replaced by machines through a process commonly referred to as workplace automation.  Robotics have been involved in factory processes for over 20 years particularly in the automotive industries, so it comes as no surprise that their continued growth and expansion is now beginning to move at an absolutely astronomic rate.

Given that over the last 20 years Australia has seen a phenomenal rate of manufacturing closure and transfer of technology, equipment and expertise away from Australia into, predominantly, Southeast Asia.  Consequently, it will be interesting to see how much, if at all; of this manufacturing will be capable of being returned to Australia once the labour force is no longer required.

In many ways it is quite likely that the long-term success of the now overseas-based manufacturing concerns may well have been founded in the early and immediate provision of cheap labour that was knowingly capable of being replaced with robotic or automated systems somewhere within the next 20 to 30 years.  As such the compounding of much of the world’s manufacturing into a small arena may well significantly limit future growth and development.

It is understood that these days greater desire appears to reflect around adding value and technical expertise to a problem rather than in the mere act of production.  However, this leaves Australia in exactly the same position it was in when it was a penal colony whereby our wool was growing here, transported to the United Kingdom for milling and then exported elsewhere for production into fine garments.  The minimum component of effort, or at least reward, being left in Australia.

Much of the heavy engineering that this country was once capable of is now located overseas and as such it will be necessary for us to acquire our substantive machinery from overseas to rebuild our Australian plants, be they automated or otherwise.  The future balance of jobs, productivity, training and development as well as a communal wholeness will be dependent upon our ability to develop, create and build jobs for the vast majority of our population rather than just an educated and creative few.

We currently continue to move the lower end jobs overseas and this takes away the valuable training ground that our future professionals and experts will lack in their senior years.  It is imperative that we do not lose sight of our society as a whole rather than just measuring those components that are operating successfully.  It is becoming clear from a number of economic presentations that I’ve seen this year that we continue to focus on all the positive economic indicators without due regard to some of the damage, such as rates of homelessness, increasing regional unemployment and the like that will have a potentially significant detrimental effect on our national future.

As with the advent of automation it would have been brilliant had we spotted this before we moved our plants overseas and that we had focused more on potentially expediting automation in this country.  Let’s hope we do not lose sight of the opportunities that can be regained into this country, because it is clear that other countries will be certainly focusing quite significantly on their own interest.