By Louis Rumao:
Much is heard about job losses due to robots, but little about improvements in quality and, especially, reduced injury rates to workers in hazardous or repetitive operations.
From production and assembly to packing and palletizing, robots and automation help at every stage of manufacturing process to improve quality, productivity and to reduce costs.
Car assembly operators and automotive part manufacturers are some of the biggest users of robots in their plants. Most car assembly plants use robots exclusively for spot welding and painting. For the chemical, rubber and plastics industries, use of robots is projected to grow at a CAGR of 10 -12percent for the next five years, with material handling being the predominant application for robots.
Manufacturing-robots reduce part-to-part variability. Highly repeatable and reliable, they do not suffer from end-of-shift fatigue. Cycle times are constant all day, every day, and peak production rates are maintained. Running robots through breaks and shift changeovers yields more output from production lines than the manually-attended ones. Also, they do not drop parts or damage them. That reduces potential waste caused by human error, and it also means more consistentcomponents and assembly. Equipped with vision systems, robots can even detect variation in incoming materials and adapt their programmed paths to suit. This, in turn, translates to higher customer satisfaction and lower warranty costs.
Many jobs in manufacturing are hazardous. Sometimes, the dangers are obvious, as in pouring molten metal in a foundry. Other times, they are more insidious, like the musculo skeletal disorders resulting from lifting, twisting and repetitive motions. Robots do not suffer from these maladies. In many plants, robots keep workers from exposure to fumes from welding and painting, as well as weld flash and the noise of stamping presses. Robots and automation cut accidents and injury claims by removing workers from these risky environments.
Economists, politicians and business leaders sing the praise of automation and robots. But across the bargaining table, trade unions fight to keep their members from being displaced by robots.Automation maydestroy as many as 73 million US jobs by 2030.Globally, up to 800 million workers could be displaced and as many as 375 million may need to learn new skills for new occupations. Advanced economies such as the US and Europe that pay high wages are more likely to adopt this labour-saving technology.
However, economic growth, rising productivity and retraining could offset some of the losses, according to a new report by McKinsey Global Institute. “The dire predictions that robots are going to take our jobs are overstated. There will be enough jobs for everyone in most sectors,” Susan Lund, the group’s Director of research and co-author of the study, said. “The biggest challenge will be retraining millions of workers midcareer. So far, governments and businesses have done a poor job in this regard. The big question is not, ‘will there be jobs, but, ‘will people who lost jobs be able to get new ones,” Lund said.
The lesson from the past industrial revolution is that as traditional jobs disappear, workers and job-seekers must besufficiently educated to take advantage of the new emerging roles.
Will Robot Replace Me?
Yes, if you are doing a low-skill, simple, repetitive job.Your employer should also play safe and use a robot if your job involves hazardous tasks.
No, if you are working for a low-wage, low-volume, low-profit manufacturing company, as it cannot justify the high cost of a robot.
Maybe, when robots get cheaper, smarter, and more adaptable, you could be replaced.
The Bottom Line
Even as doom-and-gloom reports suggest robots are poised to replace human labour and automotive upstarts like Tesla Inc. aim to remove people from the production line, workers keep toiling side-by-side with machines at Honda’s manufacturing unit in Ohio, USA. “We can’t find anything to take the place of the human touch and of human senses like sight, hearing and smell,” Tom Shoupe, the COO,said in an interview.While robots have replaced humans for almost all painting and welding tasks, the level of automation has not grown much on final assembly lines where humans install engines and interior trim components.
One thing is sure, there will be new jobs. Every industrial robot requires mechanical, electrical, and software engineers to manufacture it, and skilled workers to service it. Unskilled labour may gradually dwindle, but higher-level, and therefore higher-paid, opportunities will expand.