WEEKEND WEB: Get ready for the second revolution

Coun Nick Worth, Deputy Leader, South Holland District Council.  Photo supplied.
Coun Nick Worth, Deputy Leader, South Holland District Council. Photo supplied.
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Coun Nick Worth writes this week’s Cabinet Call.

Over the last few weeks I have attended a number of agri-food events and I am picking up a common message throughout.

The second industrial revolution is on its way – where robotic automation is set to play a major part in the future of manufacturing.

With uncertainties continuing around Brexit and serious concerns over the workforce in the short term, larger businesses are already investing in automation and robotics.

Small- to medium-size businesses need to start investing in these new innovative technologies that will make them both competitive, improve productivity and become more efficient, otherwise they will get left behind.

The good news is that European grant funding will be available for another three years to help them with that.

The UK is lagging a long way behind other countries when it comes to automation and robotics, but this is being rectified quite quickly.

Lincolnshire, through the University of Lincoln with investment from the Greater Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership and the great work being done by The National Centre for Food Manufacturing in Holbeach (itself a world leader), along with grant schemes aimed specifically at small- and medium-sized businesses, such as the South Holland administered Grants 4 Growth scheme, will help businesses in our area to remain competitive and increase productivity. Grants are available from £1,000 to £25,000 and can cover 28 per cent of eligible costs.

‘Soft robotics’ is becoming the ‘in’ word, where robots can be programmed to pick anything from fruit (directly from the tree or bush), to fish or eggs off a line and pack them ready for the supermarket without damaging the product.

Although the original outlay of automation/robotics can be expensive, it soon pays for itself. Robots don’t incur wage bills, pay rises or pensions and some have suggested that as much as 45 per cent of tasks currently carried out by humans can be replaced with this technology.

That being said there is then a huge opportunity looming for young people with computer programming skills and much higher wages, to fit the future requirements of robotic automated industries in South Holland. Exciting, if somewhat scary times!