When robots started being used in American factories, people were understandably upset and afraid. We were told robots were going to change the face of American manufacturing. Factories would be overrun by automation that never needed a human worker. While things were never that dire in the early days of robotics, we’re still seeing many changes in industrial automation as Industry 4.0 emerges as a new manufacturing-data-automation hybrid philosophy. Of course, there are plenty of myths surrounding industrial automation and its effect on American manufacturing. The industry has continued to change, but the myths have never entirely gone away. So we want to dispel these myths of industrial automation and discuss what the future holds for the manufacturing industry.
Automation means workers will lose their jobs
We all heard the news this summer that robots are expected to take up to 20 million global manufacturing jobs by 2030, and that many of these replacements will happen in developing countries. Meanwhile, other experts predict 2.5 million U.S. manufacturing jobs will go unfilled. Can both of those predictions be true? If anything, automation will help more people keep their jobs, as decision-makers retain and retrain their current workforce. Companies that don’t adapt to new technology and ideas, including automation, will only fall further behind until they’re forced to close. But yes, there will be people who lose their low-skill, low-wage jobs.
On the other hand, automation will actually create more high-skill, high-paying jobs. Workers who are able to get trained on this new equipment, or new workers who receive technical education, will be able to command higher salaries and better job security.
Industrial automation is too expensive
Sure, replacing humans with machines is going to be expensive. But do you know what will be more expensive? Losing sales and contracts to companies that invested in industrial automation early on and have been taking advantage of increased productivity, with lower waste and production costs. Those companies will far surpass the factories that are still operating with 20th-century equipment and a 20th-century mindset. Plus, any industrial automation investment will likely have a positive ROI. New machines have a fixed cost, and if they can help you make financial improvements in other ways — lower labor costs, lower waste and rejects, increase productivity — those improvements can eventually pay for the new machines; everything you make after that will be pure profit. You’ll rarely see that kind of ROI with an all-human workforce operating outdated machines.
Robots can do everything.
No, they can’t. In fact, there are a whole slew of processes and procedures that humans can do better than robots, including manual dexterity, vision and comprehension, and language processing. Computers can do a lot of amazing things — they can process information and perform calculations faster. However, they can’t identify unknown objects, and they have to be programmed in order to communicate effectively (and even then, they can’t learn and understand everything). And, for the moment, they don’t have the manual dexterity that a hand does.
While industrial automation may seem like a magic bullet, there are still plenty of things that manufacturers need humans for. For one, machines cannot repair and maintain themselves. They need programmers, designers, and other high-skilled people to keep these machines running.
Additionally, there are jobs that just require human beings — jobs that automated systems are not capable of handling. While lights-out manufacturing operations may be a fear that’s played up in the media, we’re still far from being able to do that in most operations. And it’s not likely we’ll see this kind of operation any time in the future.
NuTec specializes in designing, building, and integrating assembly automation solutions, helping companies fully integrate Industry 4.0 best practices. If you would like to learn more about how you can upgrade your manufacturing facility, improve your productivity, all while reducing your error rates and waste, you can contact us for more information.
Experienced professional with 30+ years working in creative technical fields. From my post-college years installing windmills in the mid-west (I affectionately call my Don Quixote years) through starting on the drafting boards at a Fortune 1,000 company, I have strived to provide unique out-of-the-box designs. This aptitude, coupled with leadership opportunities has led me down a wonderful path of challenging work.