Professor Andrew Thomas sees renewed employment for motion control and manufacturing
By Tom Hoffman, CEO/President
Many pundits, journalists and academics have termed the current resurgence of U.S. manufacturing “a jobless recovery”. They see the robots in new factories, but few workers on production lines. However, in an eye-opening article in a recent issue of Industry Week, Professor Andrew Thomas of the University of Akron, said:
"The conventional wisdom holds that robots ultimately cost the jobs of the human beings they replace, and lead to an overall decline in manufacturing employment. In a globalized economy, however, using robots might be one of the best ways for U.S. manufacturing jobs to live, thrive and survive."
Lincoln Electric Robotic Welder (source: Industry Week)
Thomas used a case study to illustrate what he meant. He told the story of Lincoln Electric Automation, a builder of customized welding robots. Using Lincoln’s robots, U.S. customers can compete with manual arc welding in China, where a typical part might cost 40 cents to weld compared with 84 cents here. Through robotic motion control, an automatic welding line beats the 40 cent expense and simultaneously improves quality.
As evidence of the new jobs paradigm, Professor Thomas added a related case study about Wing Enterprises, a Lincoln customer. Wing makes Little Giant ladders. A marketing program several years ago resulted in an order bonanza, putting tremendous strain on the company’s manual production process. Wing solved the problem by acquiring automated welding robots from Lincoln. Thanks to a sharp increase in productivity, Wing was able to handle the sales bonanza through factory expansion. Headcount climbed remarkably, from 20 to 400 employees.
Professor Thomas concludes his theme with another brief case study about Crown Equipment. In Crown’s case, automation led to expansion and a 66% increase in employee headcount.
What are your thoughts and experiences regarding the so-called jobless recovery? Is Professor Thomas glossing over cases by highlighting these success stories? What are those new jobs about? Please use the comment space below to add to the conversation. I’m also going to add to the conversation in another blog episode that investigates what those new jobs are all about.