24 May 2022

Automation has key role to play in UK’s net zero journey 

net Zero

By Ed Holden

The government’s strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the UK by 50% on 1990 levels by 2025 and to net zero by 2050 is now a firm commitment and mantra. 

In the words of the prime minister, the UK’s strategy for net zero is to lead the world in ending our contribution to climate change, while turning this mission into the greatest opportunity for jobs and prosperity for our country since the industrial revolution. But is enough being done to encourage the deployment of the types of technology capable of helping companies to realise this end? Robotics and automation, for example, certainly have a substantial part to play, but how can more firms of all sizes be encouraged to embrace this type of technology? Mike Wilson, chief automation officer at the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC), believes it is largely about strategy. During the recent DFA Manufacturing Media webinar ‘Talking Industry – Robotics & Advanced Automation’, he encouraged businesses to develop an automation strategy in the same way that they develop a business plan. “You figure out where you want to be in 10 years’ time and determine how to get there not only in terms of the equipment you are going to use but also in terms of how you’re going to develop the workforce, their skills and so on – and undertake that as a business improvement strategy and in relation to the net zero.”

Wilson firmly believes automation has a significant role to play in terms of achieving the UK’s net zero targets. He maintains this is achievable partly through ensuring our manufacturing is as efficient and effective as possible so that things such as energy use and waste are reduced, and also by ensuring we enjoy the benefits from using the automation. Wilson added that Brexit and the pandemic have highlighted some of the shortcomings in our supply chains. “Over the past 20 or 30 years we have offshored a lot of our manufacturing, and COVID-19 in particular has demonstrated that those long supply chains are a problem,” he said, adding that we shouldn’t necessarily rely on those going forward. Wilson’s view is that we are going to start to see an increasing amount of manufacturing re-shoring, which he considers to be good for the UK as well as providing a positive impact on our net zero commitments. “When we look at our carbon footprint as a country, we can’t offshore our manufacturing and then pretend it doesn’t matter,” he says. “We need to look at the carbon footprint of everything that we do and shipping things all round the world is not necessarily a good thing. We need to make more of what we use locally in the UK and to do that competitively we need to use more automation. So, I do think automation will have a positive impact on our net zero future.

Company info: Smart Futures