We need to automate past skills shortages

Written by: Justin Cunningham | Published:

For many, automation is a bit of a dirty word. There’s negative connotations driven from past job losses that are, perhaps, unfair. Automation is really about efficiency, productivity and getting people to do more than just a single repetitive task of varying complexity. The truth is automation highlights a scarcity in skills, rather than creating a scarcity of jobs.

There is a gulf between the supply and demand of skilled engineers and automating many design engineering ‘functions’ seems obvious. It is not about replacing the engineer, but getting them to do more ‘real engineering’ and avoid getting bogged down in tasks that are low-value and repetitive. Sound familiar?

Industry cannot stand still and simply tread water in these tempestuous times, it needs to advance, innovate, and compete. The burden is squarely on the shoulders of design engineers that need to do more. But, meeting demand doesn’t have to mean working longer hours or shoehorning two jobs into one.

While automation is synonymous with manufacturing technologies, increasing automation in design and engineering activities is essential; technology needs to assist us in meeting our skills and productivity shortfalls.

CAD giant Autodesk is seeking efficiency gains in the divide between design and manufacture by eliminating the to-and-fro between departments. One of its Generative Design functions automates a design for a given manufacturing process from injection moulding to casting to composite to additive. The ‘optimisation’ so often needed to be done by specialist process and manufacturing engineers normally takes weeks. Now, it’s just a few clicks away and, according to those I spoke to, it’s not far off what the experienced professionals offer.

Automation will result in job losses at some level. However, the emphasis needs to be on upskilling and reskilling individuals so they can add more value, and not on keeping automatable jobs alive.


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