The Automation Station, Industry and the One that Got Away

Welcome to the Auto-ID laboratory, University of Cambridge Institute for Manufacturing.

Yesterday I made my way by train up to Cambridge to meet Professor Andy Neely, a leading authority in the measurement and management of performance in the manufacturing sector. Take this with a pinch of salt (I am far from an expert, not quite an amateur), but I am sure that is more-or-less the refining and improving of management systems (or philosophies) and manufacturing processes operated and utilised at factory level; making more streamlined the way in which products are produced/manufactured and more effective the framework that manages the processes involved in the production.

He also holds positions at both the University of Cambridge and Cranfield School of Management.

And to have any chance of improvement there must exist, of course, the capacity to measure efficiency and output amongst other variables. Only then can systems and processes be developed further. This appears to be one of his strengths and an important one at that. The UK economy relies considerably on the sector. It employed around 2.6 million people and developed near to £140bn in goods and services back in 2009. For it to survive and thrive, it must adapt and innovate.

Professor Neely is an academic in a world of ginormous structures loaded with machinery and filled with a mechanical air. Another facet of that world is the sterile operations of pioneering research facilities. During my visit, I struggled to reconcile what I thought to represent manufacturing and what actually represents it. I wanted the heat of industrial toil but felt only air-conditioned air. The two worlds exist together or not at all and I would be foolish to think on the contrary, but my perception of this unique world has been invariably shaped by my father’s work – past, present and future – in the industry and also the six months I spent as a production line operative.

The purpose of meeting Prof and robot was to shoot a few images for a manufacturing photography competition. My attention was not given to this work and I ve now ended up with photos that convey a bright white world of research and refinement; not the clanging and banging of materiel on the factory floor. The deadline will pass too soon and I haven’t the time to do what I’d like. It is the one that got away. There will always be another time!

The future of the industry is developed in places like this and by men like him, but I’d much rather focus on the unsung labour of those working the early, late and night shift patterns of the 24 hour, 365 day a year institution.

I was allowed 10 minutes.

The lab

And then the dodgy (and unintentional) PR shot.

Prof Neely

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Filed under concept, freelance photographer, reportage, technology

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