Robots test water at North West
Sunday 07 May 1995
Water companies have to test rivers and other sources regularly to ensure there is no contamination. Some 2,000 samples are taken by North West daily, leading to 6,800 tests. The process used to be labour-intensive but, as the Orwellian title emphasises, automatons are now at the heart of the process. People will still be employed in the lab, but 85 per cent of the work will be done automatically by 22 robots controlled by a single mainframe computer.
To ensure that samples are not mixed up, the flow of bottles and data will be strictly controlled by the computer when the lab goes into full operation in July. "It will be like a production line," said Geoff Springings, the project manager for the lab. "The robots are taking over what the scientists used to do."
The robots come in two types, one designed to lift and move objects from one place to another, the other able to do complex actions such as adding reagents to a sample, stirring it, or placing it in an analytical instrument. The only bit of routine work that has not been automated is filling the bottles.
The computer that runs the robots and monitors the flow of samples and information will notify its human supervisors if it spots contamination, but it can also act on its own. It can fire off faxes ordering staff in outlying stations to shut down the flow, add purifying chemicals or take other actions to solve any problem it identifies.
The key advantages are accuracy and time. Mistakes can lead to sick customers. So can delays. By the time the samples are taken, the water they were drawn from is already on the way to the tap through a mains network 42,300km long.
The regional water company also expects to save up to £2m a year on its labour and overhead costs.
The new centre has replaced all but one of its 28 regional labs, and allowed the company to cut its staff of analysts from 230 to a little over 100.
Those that remain are more satisfied with their jobs, the company said. They will do the 15 per cent of tests deemed too complex for the robots, and verify results when the system's automated checks and balances throw up an anomaly.
The staff is being organised in teams, with a flat hierarchy that is remarkably similar to the way the robots are grouped in cells.
- 1 Migrant crisis: Greek soldier saved 20 people singlehandedly off Rhodes beach
- 2 The confessions of men who ordered mail-order brides
- 3 UK weather: Britain braced for snow as arctic air mass moves in
- 5 'Isis' schoolgirls: Missing British teenager tweets picture of her Syrian takeaway
Migrant crisis: Greek soldier saved 20 people singlehandedly off Rhodes beach
Aaron and Melissa Klein: Oregon anti-gay bakers ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to make cake for same-sex wedding
UK weather: Britain braced for snow as arctic air mass moves in
Power of Nepal earthquake was equivalent to 20 huge atomic bombs
Nepal earthquake video: Terrifying footage shows moment avalanche hit Everest Base Camp
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove
iJobs Money & Business
£20000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you recently QCA Level 4 qu...
£20000 - £22500 per annum + OTE £30K: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...
£25 - 30k: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Application Support Analyst / 1st L...
£45K - £55K (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a full stack .NET D...