Opinion leaders concur that manufacturing jobs will actually get a robotics boost
By Tom Hoffman, CEO/President
In this, my third installment on the impact of robotics in manufacturing, I’ve discovered great evidence that manufacturing jobs are actually getting a boost from robotics-driven factory automation. In prior episodes, I’ve explored the way robotic production lines enable a strong business case for the return of manufacturing to American shores from Asia. The conventional view, however, is that re-shoring is largely a jobless recovery due to robotics.
Now, other key voices are piling on. In a LinkedIn essay, Martin Ford says:
"Skeptics will note that jobs were surely lost when horse-drawn carriage manufacturers were decimated by progress—but that the rise of the automobile industry, in turn, created more and better jobs.... The question for us, today, is whether we are really likely to see future industries that generate millions of new jobs. It’s easy to imagine the technologies and industries that may loom large in the future—nanotechnology, synthetic biology, virtual reality, and so forth. What is not so easy is to visualize is the rise of industries that are highly labor intensive."
More support comes from the Open Source Robotics Foundation (which standardizes the Robotics Operating System). In a ZDnet story, OSRF’s CEO, Brian Gerkey said:
"All of this money pouring into robotics is resulting in the rapid robotification of everything from airplanes to cars to lawnmowers. This isn't a bad thing ... In the short term, however, increasingly capable robots do seem like they could cause some problems for workers with an interest in job security."
At this point, is does appear that some workers are likely to be displaced by robots. Not so fast, warns Gerkey. Often overlooked is the startling estimate that 600,000 manufacturing jobs remain unfilled right here in America. A lack of trained applicants is cited as the reason. We’ve talked about this for years now: STEM education is in short supply both from an educator and student standpoint. Investment in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math curriculum is seen as the solution, the sooner the better. And we’re witnessing an increasing number of industry/education partnerships in the news cycle.
I think the answer to potential job loss in the short term due to robotics is staring us in the face. Acknowledging that reshoring is a complex thing, with both short- and long-term implications, companies in the motion control sector must reach out to higher educational resources in their communities to boost and support STEM education. Include in this the retraining of valuable employees who might be displaced by new robots planned for the factory. How are you going to find more highly motivated STEM-conscious employees than the ones you’ve already got?
Answering a comment about welders losing jobs posted on my prior robotics episode, I observed:
…classically-trained welders benefit directly when their employers make the move to robotic welding. The machines require welding expertise for proper operation. And, as reported by MTI Welding Technologies (http://goo.gl/d9Ijk8), robotic welding often requires a human welder to finish the job.
Both welders and machinists are seen as key human resources in the shift to robotics, be it welding or CNC-driven metal-cutting. WeldMyWorld.com (http://goo.gl/C7cXg7) reports that "a skilled welder is required to program the robot." In practice, companies shifting to robotics are retraining welders and machinists to both operate the equipment and add value to the production process from a quality control standpoint.
In most cases that we've seen, factory headcount actually increases, sometimes a lot, after robotics enters the picture. Several case studies were covered in the blog.