Prestonpans reaches out for a robotic Scotland after Cockenzie Power Station closure

Nathanael Williams

Council makes bid for robotic future as Scottish manufacturing remains fragile

PRESTONPANS Community Council has called for the establishment of a Centre of Excellence for Industrial Automation (CEIA) on land freed up by the closure of Cockenzie Power Station.

In its statement, it said that the purpose of the CEIA would be to see an increase in the amount of automation in heavy and light industry with mechanised robots being built to boost Scotland's industrial output.

According to the community council report the robots would in themselves create jobs from their construction and further maintenance.

"When we presented the CEIA to the community council, members championed the need for our country to get and stay ahead in modern manufacturing and the proposal passed unanimously." Calum Miller

Prestonpans council member and director of software company Millersoft, Calum Miller, told CommonSpace: "We just sat down and talked about the need to tackle local poverty and the link to meaningful employment. Once we recalled the proud industrial heritage of Prestonpans, we were encouraged to think bigger and bolder. 

"We reviewed international trends in manufacturing automation and how the UK was falling behind in productivity. That’s where the idea came from for a centre of excellence for industrial automation."

The committee of the council first came up with the proposal when considering how best to use the land left from the decommissioning of the coal power station at Cockenzie for the benefit of the local populace.

Concerned that industrial policy across the UK was limited to saving companies that already are failing, the committee wants to see an entirely new mechanised strategy that encourages modernisation of small and middle sized enterprise. 

It is suggested that the CEIA, through central government funding, would provide businesses with access to robotic manufacturing technology, helping to boost exports and enable Scottish exporters to compete on a broader platform with nations like Germany and Japan.

"In 2015, 248,000 industrial robots were sold world wide last year, representing a 12 per cent increase on 2014." Prestonpans Council

The plan also invovles the CEIA acting as a technological incubator for Scottish companies who want to modernise their existing production lines or experiment with new products to sell on a global market.

And in order to avoid the high costs in capital companies usually incurred when experimenting with technology, it will provide what Miller calls a "test bed" for the realisation of ideas using "advanced" robotic and 3D printing technology.

Commenting on any concerns that the CEIA would cut rather than create jobs, Miller said: "When we presented the CEIA to the community council, members championed the need for our country to get and stay ahead in modern manufacturing and the proposal passed unanimously. 

"Councillors recognised that few stable jobs are created near the bottom of the productivity table.

"If centres of excellence in sport can lift the UK up the Olympic medals table then why not apply the same technique to manufacturing?"

"Over four quarters compared, Scottish manufacturing exports fell by 2.1 per cent in real terms." Scottish Government

In 2015, 248,000 industrial robots were sold globally representing a 12 per cent increase on sales last year. While sixty per cent of those industrial robots were sold in Asia and 10 per cent in Germany and the rest of Europe, in the UK there are only one per cent of the industrial robots 'employed', with the bulk of these being in the automotive industry.

According to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), despite overall Scotland’s manufacturing sector contracting in recent years, it continues to make a significant contribution to the Scottish economy. 

In its 2012 report, the FSB stated that small businesses (with fewer than 50 employees) dominate Scotland’s manufacturing business base at 89 per cent but provide only 26 per cent of employment and 11 per cent of the sector’s turnover. 

Figures in the Index of Manufactured Exports (IME), published by the Scottish Government on 3 August, showed that Scottish manufactured export sales had fallen by 0.5 per cent in real terms during the first quarter of 2016. 

Compared to average growth in the latest four quarters to the average in the previous four quarters, Scottish manufacturing exports fell by 2.1 per cent in real terms.

The Scottish Government, through Scottish Enterprise, has already released an eight page action plan called 'A Manufacturing Future for Scotland' which outlines the government's intent on innovation, training, investment and advice for Scottish exporters.

The Scottish Manufacturing Advisory Service or (SMAS) has additionally focused on developing what it calls a "culture of business excellence" in all manufacturing companies in Scotland.

Picture courtesy US Department of Agriculture 

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