'People shouldn't be doing menial tasks' - firm pleads for more automation

The PCE Automation team Picture: PCE Automation

The Beccles-based PCE Automation team in 2019 - Credit: PCE Automation

Any mention of automation usually conjures up images of machines taking away our jobs.

But a Suffolk business leader who specialises in it believes automation is key to our future - saying: "People need to be doing the intelligent side of what's required in the workplace."

Beccles-based PCE Automation was founded to build boats for the tourism industry in the 1960s. 

But when foreign holidays became more affordable in the 1980s, business dwindled - so the firm took the "difficult decision" to pivot from boatbuilding to working in automation.

James Cook, the third generation of his family to run the firm, said: "From a technological perspective, it wasn't quite the quantum leap it might sound.

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"It was more probably the financial risk to move from the centre of Beccles by the river to where we are now on the technology park."

Now, the firm produces automated production lines for a variety of sectors - from helping to producing plastic bottles, to working in the medical and pharmaceutical industries and even helping to produce Covid testing kits.

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Mr Cook identifies a lack of automation within UK manufacturing as one of the reasons behind the country's faltering productivity record.

He said: "The government have been talking about our productivity puzzle for a good number of years now — it's become almost like a catchphrase.

"But for me it's not such a puzzle at all.

"When you compare our expenditure on automation — or even if you want to look at the number of industrial robots in the UK — we're way down there when compared with our European neighbours.

"People shouldn't be doing these menial tasks. People are worth much more and are far more intelligent than that.

"People need to be doing the intelligent side of what's required in the workplace."

Mr Cook said there was a belief in the UK that automation takes people's jobs.

However, he also thinks there are other reasons why automation had been slow to catch on.

"My company works within medical and lab environments," he said.

"There almost seems a reluctance for regulatory reasons.

"We almost seem to be Americanised with regards to the fear of automation and a claim culture."

Despite this, he believes the future is bright for automation. 

He said: "Within the recent budget the government laid down a lot of incentives for capital expenditure and the future for automation could not be better really.

"I think those people that don't invest with automation will quite literally get left behind.

"If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that you really need to look at the jobs people are doing and whether they need to be in the workplace."

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