Future printers could be robots

By Jo Francis, Tuesday 15 September 2015

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There’s good news and bad news for printing industry workers in a new study about the likelihood of robots taking over from humans in certain jobs.

asimo-timeline

Honda's ASIMO humanoid robot studies a timeline of its development

The report, The Future of Employment: How susceptible are jobs to automation, was carried out by Michael Osborne and Carl Frey of Oxford University’s Martin School. It followed on from original research into the topic that was carried out in the US.

According to the research, some printing industry roles are more vulnerable than others. Printers are in the top 100 of jobs at risk, ranked “quite likely” with an 83% chance of being replaced by automation.

The picture is even bleaker for print finishing and bindery operatives, ranked 31st with a 95% probability of a robot doing their job instead.

Pre-press technicians were rated “too close to call” at 57% likelihood.

The full list of 366 different roles can be found here, part of a number of special features and programmes in the BBC’s ‘Intelligent Machines’ series.

Jobs involving empathy, or a requirement to come up with creative ideas, are least likely to be replaced by robots. Senior roles such as production managers and directors, and indeed chief executives, were also ranked “unlikely” to be replaced.

BPIF chief executive Charles Jarrold said: “Robots can be a tool, but they’re not going to initiate improvement programmes. That’s where people and frontline staff will remain important.

“We as an organisation have a responsibility with regards to training and apprenticeships to make sure we don’t train people up for jobs that will be automated. So it’s important for us to look at this,” he added.

The march of technology and automation in printing has already done away with print jobs that were abundant in the 20th century, such as typesetters and film planners.

Many large-scale newspaper, magazine and book printers make use of robots for some tasks, including paper logistics and palletisation.

But robots are not the exclusive preserve of huge industrial-scale print sites. James Buffoni, commercial director at the Ryedale Group in north Yorkshire, said the company had been using robots for many years. “We developed bespoke robotics about 10-15 years ago in order to increase capacity and flexibility. It was not about replacing jobs, it was about allowing us to cope with seasonal peaks and troughs because in our rural location it’s not easy to find temporary staff.”

Zünd showed a new pick-and-place robot at Fespa earlier this year, while LasX has dubbed the combination of laser cutting with high-speed robotics “extreme finishing”.

 

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