Thursday, September 20, 2012

Robots join the Workforce

In the Netherlands, the Philips Electronics factory has implemented the use of 128 robot arms to replace human workers in the assembly of electric razors.  These robots are performing tasks like placing wires in holes “almost too small for the human eye to see”.  Philips isn’t the only company using robots on their production lines; robots have been being used for years specifically in the automobile industry.  But the use robotic technology is rapidly increasing and improving.  While many people would make the argument that these robots are forcing humans out of work and causing unemployment to spike, the truth is that the use of robots may actually help the economy by speeding up manufacturing in the United States enabling competition with industrialized giants like China. 
Robots are so adept that they are expected to be able to make any consumer device in the world.  Advances in robotics technology have made these robots almost human-like in their dexterity and vision.  Some robots are even using technology to see and adapt to changes on conveyor belts that result from error.  This is an advantage today because, as technology improves, so does consumer demands for bigger and better products.  As these products get more sophisticated, there comes a point where humans can no longer perform such tasks in the most cost effective ways.  Here is a video showing how robots are changing manufacturing in several ways.

Another benefit that can come as a result of the use of robotics in manufacturing is the placement of human workers in higher skilled jobs.  Instead of training people for entry-level jobs, employers can utilize these workers in new, more efficient ways where they can be more successful. 
I believe that the use of robots to do entry-level jobs is a great asset for companies.  They eliminate the risk of injury, reduce human error, and save time training workers.  Felicia Greene states that robots are performing high quality tasks without the error and hazards humans face.  In today’s economy the argument about jobs is ever present, but as robots continue working in factory production and distribution, people can be used in new skilled jobs arising robotic technology. 
Automation cannot completely eliminate manual labor – people are still needed to make, run, and train these machines.  But, the time has come when companies cannot turn a blind eye to robotics any longer, out of fear of job loss.  If they do, they will not be able to increase productivity that other companies gain from using robots.  In turn, they will lose their market to more efficient competitors.
In the article, Gary Bradski, founder of Industrial Perception, says, “We’re on the cusp of changing manufacturing and distribution.”  He went even further to say that the impact this can have may be as big as the impact the Internet has made on the world.  I agree with Mr. Bradski and believe that the overall effect robotic technology is going to have will change the way the entire world does business.



  1. When we hear “American Workers Laid off Robots taking over the World” we panic and think how these big bad companies could let innocent people lose their jobs to robots. But if we look at the long term aspect we realize by having robots in the manufacturing industry it can improve production, reduce costs and increase quality. The workers who are potential lay-off targets as a result can now be considered for more strategic roles in the company. Many people look at the future and get scared because looking into the future means a change in their comfortable routine. If workers embrace the Robots and are open minded about progress, the results could be more efficiency and help the American workers in the long run to expand their comfort zone. This should result in higher productivity and resourcefulness. The use of technology such as robots should be viewed as a strategic weapon and of opportunity to stay competitive. I couldn’t agree more with Colleen about this article.

  2. I agree that robots are making a tremendous impact on the efficiency of productivity in industries. It is important for companies to be proactive in making sure they are working to their full potential with the latest technology. However, we cannot ignore the impact this technology has on the workforce.
    You say, “Robots may actually help the economy by speeding up manufacturing in the United States.” You make a valid point, but speeding up manufacturing doesn’t account for what we do with the people we are putting out of work. At first, replacing people with robots may seem of little significance on the workforce, but as time goes we are going to have better technology and more robots replacing humans. When will we be going to far? At some point the number of jobs lost because of robot replacement will place a significant toll in unemployment.
    Another point mentioned was how with robotics in manufacturing human workers can now be placed in higher skilled jobs. This was a great point as well, but if companies cannot afford to have workers placed in lower skill jobs, they won’t be willing to pay more in placing these workers in positions that require more skill. Training workers for a higher skilled position takes time and money, not to mention these companies are probably not planning on having many open positions available for those who are replaced my robots.
    We also need to take into consideration that although these robots may be more efficient, they too have their glitches. If there is a technological malfunction this will have a great impact on output and productivity, because there wouldn’t be skilled workers ready to take their place.
    I agree that having these robots is a great way to improve productivity. I just feel that it is important to really think through all the drawbacks to something that is going to have such a great impact on manufacturing.