Robots: Job Takers Or Job Creators?
It seems counter-intuitive, but robots used to automate manufacturing create jobs. Counter-intuitive because, how many paint-sprayers or body-in-white welders work in automotive factories now that these jobs are performed by robots? Answer: very few.
Yes, robots are displacing some workers, but overall, robots create more jobs than they take. In fact a recent report by the reputable London-based market research company Metra-Martech concluded that 3.6 jobs are created by every robot. Some of these are in the growing robot industry itself — jobs like applications engineering and programming — but many more are found in the manufacturing companies using these machines. Here's a more detailed look.
Robots lower costs
Manufacturers, in the U.S. and elsewhere, are using robots to lower their production costs by automating low-skill, repetitive work and increasing capacity. The cost advantage of robots over people should be obvious: a robot works 24/7, never takes a break and never asks for benefits. The capacity gain stems from the difficulty many manufacturing companies have in attracting job applicants, especially for dirty, dangerous, noisy and otherwise unpleasant environments and tasks. Used in situations like these, a robot often relieves a production bottleneck, allowing more output from the factory without an increase in costs.
Lowering production costs does two things: It lets U.S. manufacturers compete with low-wage countries, (which is leading to re-shoring) and it lowers the prices of manufactured goods. When prices are lower, people can buy more, so by letting manufacturers produce more cheaply, robotic automation increases demand for manufactured goods and makes factories busier.
Robots can do things people aren't very good at
Robots score above humans in two areas: precision and consistency. That's one reason electronic product assembly is a big growth area: robots are fast, accurate, don't tire and don't make mistakes.
Recognizing these traits, engineers are designing products (and in the near future, services) with robotic assembly and processing in mind. Consumer electronics is one such area; bio-science (pharmaceuticals, medical device manufacture) is another. Also on the horizon is robotic food processing, where robots can potentially provide higher levels of hygiene with less waste.
Robots can do things people shouldn't be doing
Foundry work, repetitive lifting and moving, and paint spraying are just a few examples of the types of jobs people shouldn't be doing. These are dangerous and unpleasant, and accidents are far too common. Besides the human cost, industrial accidents cost manufacturers many millions of dollars each year in workers’ compensation and health care. Assigning these jobs to robots creates a safer workplace and lowers costs for everyone.
The robot industry is growing
Part of the robot-related jobs growth is directly attributable to the growing use of robots. Design, manufacture and assembly of robots takes engineering talent and creates machining and assembly work.
These robots must then be integrated into cells to become productive, and that takes tooling and conveyors, plus the electricians, programmers and installation techs to put it all together. Then once in service, robots will need reprogramming and retooling as products change and the mix of work in a factory shifts. It's true to say these are higher skilled and more creative than the jobs robots are displacing, but they are also opportunities for those willing to acquire new skills.
Growth all around
The bottom line is that automation creates more jobs than it replaces. The robot population will continue to grow, most likely at an accelerating pace, and some low-skill, repetitive jobs will disappear. But that loss will be more than offset by a combination of growth in robot industry employment and an expanding manufacturing base. In short, the future looks good for manufacturing jobs.
Article contributed by Bob Goossens, Chief Operating and Technology Officer for Acieta. Acieta specializes in Industrial Robotics automation with the objective of helping American manufacturing be globally competitive and thrive for decades to come.