OPINION: Visy continues to invest in automation

OPINION: Visy continues to invest in automation

Visy’s automation department is capable of producing and selling an impressive array of machines.

Their robots can package goods; form, lid, pack, and shrink trays; erect cases; and seal and form cartons. They sell automated versions of palletisers, conveyors, dynamic accumulation, de-strappers, magazine loaders, and guided vehicles.

Automation plays a role in just about every sphere of the company: for example, the promotional video for their Tumut mill expansion focuses on, amongst its many achievements, the use of driverless forklifts.

Automation enables companies like Visy to compete with rivals whose factories are in low wage countries, like Bangladesh and India. However, the robotisation of the workforce comes at a cost. Two years ago, the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) predicted that 5 million Australian jobs would be lost to automation by 2030. Their report found that 40 per cent of Australian jobs, and 60 per cent of jobs in rural and regional areas, were at risk of being replaced by cheaper, and more efficient, robots.

When asked by the Tumut and Adelong Times if their automation investment would have an impact on jobs in Tumut, a Visy spokesperson declined to comment.

Visy is clearly proud of their work in the automation field. In March, they announced they were moving into the ‘cobots’ sphere. Cobots are collaborative robots that are safe to work alongside humans in a manufacturing environment.

They are more practical for businesses than traditional machinery because a cobot has sensors that will automatically halt its movements if a human is close by. In this way they can be deployed on production lines and elsewhere where human workers are without needing to be enclosed in cages.

Visy will be the distributors and system integrators for Universal Robots, a Danish company who say, “when we say the UR robot can automate virtually anything we mean virtually anything – from assembly to painting, from screw driving to labelling, from injection molding to welding and from packaging to polishing.”

Visy Automation’s Derek Ford said cobots widen the range of tasks that, formerly the responsibility of humans, can now be performed by robots.

“We are seeing that both big and small business are interested in what CoBots can do for them. It is also opening new opportunities where we just didn’t consider automation previously,” he said in a press release about their cobots launch.

The automation trend, which is global, does not have to be a bad thing for communities. In fact, there are a plenty of reasons to welcome it – but only if local economies are adequately prepared.

The 2015 CEDA report basically outlined automation as being inevitable, and is critical of the lack of government policy being instigated to help communities transition. It recommended flexibility around hiring and firing, decent unemployment benefits, and world-class re-skilling programs for the millions of people who find the economy no longer has a place for them.