Published On: Fri, Dec 6th, 2019

Man and machine working in unison

As all the political parties start to map out their plans for the future, two particular ideas mooted by the Labour Party grabbed the attention of many in the manufacturing sector: a move towards a 32-hour/4-day working week and a ‘robot tax’. A shorter working week while maintaining the same rate of pay is tantamount to a pay rise and a cost increase for employers. At a time of economic uncertainty, it would force employers to raise prices to cover the increase in cost.

Society is changing and among younger workers especially, there is a movement towards a greater work/life balance. Shorter working hours and expectations of increases in real income are going to put extra pressure on businesses. What needs to be maintained is productivity and with increased manufacturing efficiency there would then be potential for workers (and Labour) to achieve their desired position of increased salaries and leisure time. In a new book by Roger Bootle ‘The AI Economy: Work, Wealth and Welfare in the Robot Age’ the author believes ‘increased prosperity derived from higher productivity will lead to increased leisure and income.’ The role of artificial intelligence and robots is a central component to this outcome. The irony being, that in order for Labour to achieve its desirable 32-hour week the likely scenario will be the increased use of robots – an area it is targeting with its ‘robot tax’ to protect workers.

Manufacturing lies at the heart of the window and door industry. Over the years the process has become increasingly automated. However, the human element still has a significant role to play. When you move into installation, the whole procedure is reliant on manual labour. We are continually hearing about a skills shortage in all areas of the window industry. Installation firms are constantly looking for fitters, while many manufacturers are looking at an ageing workforce and asking themselves where are the shop floor staff of the future coming from? Increased automation is the obvious solution and one that we should not be scared of. Automation and robots don’t need to be the enemy of humans. Increasing production through machines can actually lead to higher salaries and increased leisure time.

The fabrication machinery suppliers in the window industry are constantly pushing the boundaries of production in terms of efficiencies and finish quality. Installation of replacement windows and doors into domestic properties will probably continue as a human-led operation for many years to come. However, when it comes to new homes, things could be set to drastically change in the not too distant future. The rise of modular housing has led to the increased involvement of robots in the construction process. Cutting the openings for windows and doors and then picking up and securing fenestration components into the aperture are all processes that lend themselves to automation. It is important to remember that man and the machine can work in unison to deliver a desirable outcome for everyone….

John CowieEditor