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Moving forward: Robots vs. American Jobs

All in all, robots and automation will be good for the long-term vitality of the U.S. economy.

By ·
By ·

Editor’s Note: Mark Dohnalek is President & CEO of Pivot International, the Kansas-based global product development, engineering & manufacturing firm.


The topic of robots replacing people is a discussion happening by both executives and workers. Whether in the C-suite or on the assembly line, what impact robots and increased automation will have on, everyone is asking the same question but no one is giving the same answer. A recent study by National Economics Bureau of Research estimates that approximately three jobs have been eliminated in the U.S. for each industrial robot that has been introduced into the labor market. But will this be a permanent trend? Maybe but maybe not.  Here’s why.

Robots need to be built, programmed, customized, maintained, serviced and continuously updated. This requires logistics planners, hardware designers, engineers, computer programmers, materials management specialists, and a multitude of other technicians. The questions & answers still remain:  Will jobs go away? Some will. Will jobs change? Many will. Yet automation must be embraced because it is true progress forward and below are some of the reasons why.

  • Increased productivity. Automation has led to a real resurgence in American industry. The New York Times reported recently that manufacturing is at a record high, with workers producing 47% more than they did 20 years ago. That’s largely due to automation.
  • Cost cutting. After the initial investment costs, there’s no doubt that automation saves businesses money.  From the cost efficiency of mechanizing repetitive tasks to increased production in faster time, automation is tremendously valuable for manufacturers of all sizes.
  • Better quality. The automation process largely eliminates human error, assuring more consistent quality in a product no matter how many times a task is repeated. If automated manufacturing technology is properly maintained, there’s no such thing as fatigue or distraction to cause a mistake.
  • Less downtime. With automation, it’s possible to run at maximum production rates, 24/7. Shifts of human workers can come and go around the clock, working with the machines to create the products. In an increasingly fast-paced world, it’s simply impossible to ignore the advantage of time that automation can provide.
  • Safety. The harder a human being works, and the more equipment they’re around, the greater the potential for serious injury. Automation has largely eliminated the issue of hazardous work environments. However, robots and automated systems will serve as job creators as the demand will increase for skilled workers in maintenance and repair.

The effects of automation on American manufacturing are complex. As the above list shows, improved automation will reduce costs for manufacturing and that will better position US manufacturers more competitively throughout the world. Additionally, as the robotic industry expands, new jobs will be created generating a brand-new and very exciting landscape of careers.

Designing, building, service robots will required skilled teams for educating and training as well as people needed to actually do these jobs. All in all, robots and automation will be good for the long-term vitality of the US economy. Understanding that manufacturing automation must be done to benefit both the corporate bottom line and the lives of American jobseekers is the biggest challenge. But we will do this because manufacturing achievement will continue to be the successful combination of positive, purposeful leadership vision fulfilled by accomplished, committed and talented employees.

 


About the Author

Patrick Burnson, Executive Editor
Patrick Burnson is executive editor for Logistics Management and Supply Chain Management Review magazines and web sites. Patrick is a widely-published writer and editor who has spent most of his career covering international trade, global logistics, and supply chain management. He lives and works in San Francisco, providing readers with a Pacific Rim perspective on industry trends and forecasts. You can reach him directly at [email protected]

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