Rise of The Machines Article:
Sunday Independent 23rd January 2022
If companies can’t hire the workforce they need, will more firms start building them instead?
Peter Creighton certainly thinks so. He is managing director of Cork-based Reliance Automation, a division of an engineering products and mechanical agricultural components company that was founded in 1920 out of the back of a Model T truck by Creighton’s great-grandfather Horace Rhodes Kenworthy. Reliance distributes and maintains industrial cobots (collaborative robots) in Ireland for Danish manufacturer Universal Robots, and has just opened an automation hub in Dublin.
“What the pandemic did was made companies realise that if they had automated before they wouldn’t be in the sticky situation they are in now,” says Creighton. “Covid has taught us a lot of lessons about the way the world will look going forward, which is that there are going to be times when we are going to go through pandemics – though not for a long time, I hope.
“Staff can be out because they are sick or there is a Covid outbreak and all of those elements come into the mix in how businesses are planning for the future.
“This next generation of robotics has been a game-changer for businesses looking to automate, because all of a sudden you can put a robot working side-by-side with someone without having to deal with safety issues.
“You can move that robot from one application to another and have as many pre-saved programs as you want – you just pick a program for any application and press ‘go’.
“The biomedical and biopharma companies are advanced in their use of robotics, but they are always adding on to what they have.
“A big problem is those businesses don’t have staff now, because of Covid outbreaks, and have to stop production lines. One large customer who purchases a lot of automation now has three out of 20 production lines that aren’t working because of Covid.
“It’s worrying because they are manufacturing products that save lives.
“The food industry is certainly growing in its requirements for automation. Meat processing plants are very labour intensive and have had awful problems with labour during Covid.
“A cut of meat will be a different size every time, so it’s very difficult to automate the cutting of meat. But we do work with those companies for tasks like moving product from one area to the next.
“Robotics in high-volume warehousing housing and logistics it is most definitely an area that’s going to grow.
“Ireland is still in its infancy in this regard – the return on investment is more suited to larger high-volume warehouses, like the Amazon fulfilment centre that’s opening [in Baldonnell]. The logistics companies are looking at automating more than general warehousing, because of the surge in online shopping. The supermarket distribution warehouses are too.”