Yep, we're going there. We're taking on the 'B' word.
Brexit is, hands down, the most divisive element in British life right now. Even in my sleepy little village I've seen 'Remainers' and 'Leavers' lock horns'. It's a topic which raises a lot of emotion, and feelings are running very high.
So I'm going to tread quite carefully with this post, and stick as closely as I can to the pure practicalities of Brexit for British automation!
Making Educated Guesses
Brexit is still a bit of an unknown quantity. Nobody knows exactly how it's going to pan out, or what the wider economic and social implications will be. But we can make a few educated guesses.
Brexit will bring about massive changes, there is no doubt about that. It will cause a huge shift in the very foundations of British society and industry. Whether you think that's a good thing or a bad thing in the long term is a matter of opinion - but there can be no doubt that big changes are afoot.
Concentrating purely on the automation and manufacturing angle - well, we're cautiously optimistic about what these changes could bring IF (and it's a big 'if') we do some serious preparation before Brexit hits.
To explain ourselves, it's probably best to delve a bit deeper into what Brexit will mean for UK industry (particularly manufacturing) as a whole:
Expert predictions on Brexit's economic effects tend to swing with the expert's own political views. Some (the Bank of England's Mark Carney, for example) forecast catastrophic economic downturn, while others speak of a boost for home-grown businesses.
It is highly probable that international investment in UK industry will fall - at least in the short term. This will reduce the overall funds available to British business, and could have a knock-on effect on the economy. As a result, new businesses could find it harder to get going, and established businesses may well struggle to generate a profit.
It is also pretty certain that British business will have a harder time accessing resources which come to the UK from or through the EU. This could increase overheads and admin time significantly.
In our favour is the fact that British manufacturing has a great reputation abroad. Research undertaken by Barclays has shown that overseas consumers are willing to pay up to 22% more for products marked 'Made in Britain'. Which is encouraging!
If this is indeed the case, the increased price potential could cover the extra costs of exporting without our current trade deals. What's more, the same report indicates that demand for British goods is rising all over the world. Good, right? Well, that depends on how much we can up our game between now and Brexit...
A potential market is only useful if you've got the products to sell in the first place. British productivity is 17% lower than the G7 average, which doesn't bode well for our chances at self-sufficiency. One of the areas in which we're lagging behind is, unfortunately, automation.
If you've been following this blog, you'll know a bit about how automation can benefit business. Most importantly for the whole productivity thing, automation amps up a business's production capacity massively while simultaneously reducing production costs. This kind of boost could be just what's needed to bring British productivity up to the standards we'll need if we're going to compete internationally without EU trade deals.
So, if (and, like I said, it's a big 'if'!) we can bring industrial automation up to competitive levels before Full Brexit hits, these reduced overheads and increased productivtiy could well offset any negative economic effect.
If we really throw ourselves at automation over the next few years, it might be enough to overcome Brexit's economic turbulence, and turn British manufacturing into the money-generating resource which it should be.
It's also worth noting that our worker pool is likely to experience a catastrophic decrease following Brexit. It's already plummeting as EU citizens head back to the Continent.
On a purely practical level, a shortage of migrant workers could make things very difficult for a lot of British companies. From an automation point of view, however, it could open up spaces for automated systems and robots.
Concerns over jobs was a factor in many Brexit votes. Brexit may indeed free up spaces on the factory floor - but businesses wishing to compete on a global scale without EU backing will probably take the opportunity to fill those spaces with robots and systems, allowing them to do more for less.
Will We Be Prepared In Time?
Obviously here at MASK Control Systems we're working our little socks off to bring British automation and robotics up to speed - but, overall, greater uptake of automation is going to take significant investment from higher up. And not just monetary investment, either. As I've detailed in earlier blog posts, preparing for automation has to be a fully comprehensive operation. A framework needs to be set in place which will ensure economic fallbacks and failsafes to see human employees through what will undoubtedly be a workplace revolution.
There are plenty of initiatives out there designed to help businesses towards automation. Siemens, for example, offer lucrative finance deals on equipment and are busily investing in the British market. Oher companies and NGOs are willing to invest heavily in automation projects, as canny investors can see that investing in a company which automates is likely to bring hefty returns once the business is up and running.
So, basically, our advice to any business which wants to Brexit-proof itself is...give us a call!