Does robotic automation kill jobs?

When the general public hears the word “robot”, many either think of robots that will become smarter than us and eventually enslave the human race, or picture robots taking away all of our jobs.

Fortunately, the point of singularity–when robots match human intelligence–is a hotly debated topic, and scientists are unsure about its possibility. Even those who think it will happen posit that it will be in the distant future. As for the possibility of robots displacing everyone from their jobs, this just isn’t the case. Let’s look at the evidence:

In the six years leading up to 2016, there were 135,000 new industrial robots installed throughout the United States, mainly in the race to automate the automobile manufacturing industry. There’s another scary word–automate. These one hundred-thousand plus robots certainly killed jobs right? Intuition leads us to say, “well, of course,” but when we looked at the data, the evidence actually revealed the contrary. During that same six year period, in the automotive manufacturing industry alone, 230,000 new jobs were added. So if automation doesn’t kill jobs, how does it create opportunity for more jobs?

To answer that question, let’s look at Waison Group, a manufacturer of power distribution and energy management products that deployed multiple Rethink collaborative robots in their operation to automate repetitive parts assembly tasks. Liao Qianzhong, general manager of production, told Modern Materials Handling that they are “just beginning to introduce this level of automation into [their] manufacturing processes…[which] will enable [them] to speed up production and migrate to smart manufacturing”. In seven months after Waison Group deployed collaborative robots in their workforce, productivity improved 45%, while operating costs and product defect rates decreased by 25% and 50%, respectively. According to Qianzhong, the increase in output and profitability enabled Waison Group to retrain “workers who were previously on the assembly line,” and assign them to higher “value-added” positions. Waison Group is just one example of a company that reaped the benefits of updating their manufacturing processes. (ref.1)

Franke Küchentechnik AG, a Swiss company that produces kitchen sinks, is another case where collaborative robots helped automate part of the assembly process and boost productivity, without impacting jobs. Franke implemented Universal Robots’ UR5 to automate and increase precision in the repetitive task of gluing mounting blocks to each side of their aluminum sinks. The collaborative robot is decreasing the likelihood of human error while reducing waste with more precise gluing. By automating a highly repetative assembly task, Franke has freed up labor resources for the company to use in other value-added, more satisfying jobs, thus increasing productivity and employee morale. (ref.2)

Contrary to what intuition leads us to believe, when robotics are introduced in the workforce, employment generally increases. Automation enables companies to make better products and cut costs in production, allowing money to be spent on expansion and retraining employees for higher value-added positions. Robotic automation is the future, but we need not be afraid–it will result in a net benefit to the global economy and ultimately the human race.




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