The robots are coming and there’s no escape - so let’s use them to get rich.
Clever machines that can talk to each other and make decisions on their own are no threat to jobs.
In fact they are an opportunity for Sheffield to become the UK’s capital of ‘digital manufacturing’ creating many more positions than are lost - and most of them paying more.
The rapid rise of robots, automation, virtual reality and massive computer power is being called the ‘fourth industrial revolution’.
And the city’s world class manufacturing heritage, skilled workforce and digital prowess make it well placed to lead the way.
“It’s happening and we can’t escape it, so we might as well embrace it. A lot of cities have got a piece of the jigsaw but very few have as many as Sheffield,” said Rab Scott, head of digital at the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, part of Sheffield University, and a proud member of the Made in Sheffield club.
It employs 650 on two sites at Catcliffe and was key to attracting McLaren and Boeing - which is building a £40million factory in Sheffield, its first in Europe.
The AMRC already has 100 industrial partners who pay for research. But now it is pushing even harder into technology.
It has just joined membership body Sheffield Digital and is pioneering a drive to bring both disciplines together.
Digital firms are being urged to get in touch, team up with Made in Sheffield manufacturers - and let the magic happen.
Rab said: “We joined Sheffield Digital to take advantage of the local skills base. With the Boeing and McLaren announcements it really opens the door for us to drive forward on the adoption of technology in manufacturing.”
Last week, people from 15 Sheffield digital companies visited Factory 2050, the AMRC’s flagship research building.
Rab added: “They will be creating digital solutions we are not aware of. We want them to show us the art of the possible. They said they didn’t realise what opportunities manufacturing could be for digital and want to get involved.
“Companies come to the AMRC for assistance to improve productivity and to understand the skills they might need to move forward. Digital manufacturing is a key enabler of that and it applies absolutely to everyone.
“Small companies have a greater opportunity – they can adopt new technology more quickly.”
The AMRC has 11 core capabilities including integrated manufacturing, design and prototyping, additive manufacturing and virtual reality. It is also home to the Integrated Manufacturing Group which spans robotics and automation, digitally-assisted assembly and manufacturing informatics.
Mel Kanarek, director and co-founder of Sheffield Digital, said: “We’re delighted to have this relationship with the AMRC.
“Sheffield Digital’s community includes many businesses that have the ideas and skills that manufacturing needs.
“This partnership will help feed that expertise into the supply chain and increase opportunities for innovation and the development of new businesses.”
TRUST IS A PROBLEM
Technology might hold the promise of improved productivity and great leaps forward.
But when we don’t even trust a satnav not to send us down a farm track - as happens sometimes - then some people are clearly going to have a problem embracing smart machines.
Rab Scott, of Sheffield University’s AMRC, said: “There are a lot of sceptics but the way to convert a sceptic is to show them the benefits. As we use tech more it improves and becomes more trusted. “We shouldn’t be scared of it but see it as an opportunity.
“We are just starting on this journey. If we don’t embrace it other cities will.”