Robotics applications and jobs recruiting are multiplying exponentially as artificial intelligence (AI) breakthroughs accelerate robot improvement. This was discussed during my recent appearance on WGN Radio.
Worldwide Use of Robotics Increasing
The global average for industrial robots per 10,000 manufacturing workers grew from 66 in 2015 to 85 in 2017. This is according to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR).
Robotics improvements, such as advanced machine vision and sensors as well as artificial intelligence (AI) breakthoughs have rapidly increased robot breakthroughs. Therefore, we can expect robotics pricing and performance will significantly improve over the next decade.
A central question is whether and how robotics will impact production processes as a potentially new general-purpose technology. This is particularly evident in such globally traded sectors as manufacturing.
The last major technology wave was driven by information technology (IT). The disruption was largely decentralizing in nature. It enabled the geographic distribution of far-flung supply chains to the periphery in search of cheap labor.
Will the next wave of technology innovation based on robotics have the opposite effect? Will is enable a reshoring of manufacturing at its core?
Fourth Industrial Revolution
There is both considerable excitement and trepidation about the so-called “fourth industrial revolution” (robotics) and its ability to power growth around the world. The term “fourth industrial revolution” is actually a misleading and overly simplistic term. There have been at least six (not four) major production technology systems since the late 1700s. Therefore a more accurate term is the “next production system.”
There are many important questions about the next production system. These include the timing of impacts, the nature of the technologies involved and the effects on industries, labor markets and productivity. One critical question is how its impacts will likely differ between developed and developing economies?
The short answer is that both developed and developing economies will benefit from the next production system, although differently. Developing economies will likely benefit less, in part because their lower labor costs provide less incentive to replace it with technology. Plus, because the new production systems appear to enable shorter production runs, smaller factories and higher productivity—all of which should enable reshoring to developed, higher-wage nations.
Technical Innovation Emerging Worldwide
Interest in the technology role in international affairs appears to be growing as the next wave of technological innovation emerges. However, much of that focus is on product (e.g. smartphones, commercial jets, automobiles, solar panels, etc.) technology rather than on process (“machines” to improve how a good or service is produced) technology that enables automation.
Automation is a particular kind of process technology. The term “automation” was originally coined in 1945. The engineering division of Ford Motor Company first used it to describe the operations of its new transfer machines. Those machines mechanically unloaded stamped parts from body presses and positioned them in front of machine tools.
Today, the word automation refers to any highly automatic production process controlled by a machine with little or no input from an operator in order to produce it. There are many technologies that can enable a production process to be automated, and robotics is an increasingly important one.
Robots Are Vital To Productivity Increases
There is no hard and fast definition of “robotics.” The term generally refers to physical machines programmed to perform a variety of different tasks. These machines interact with the environment at some level with limited or no input from an operator.
Robots are key tools for boosting productivity. Most of robotic engineering recruitment has occurred in manufacturing to date. This is because robots perform a wide variety of manual tasks more efficiently and consistently than humans.
But the use of robotics is spreading to other sectors as innovation expands. We have seen increases ranging from agriculture to logistics to hospitality.
Robots are also getting cheaper, more flexible and more autonomous. This in part though incorporating AI, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) engineering, scientific, R&D and technical principles.
Some robots substitute for human workers. Others (e.g. collaborative robots, or “cobots,” which work alongside workers, etc.) complement them. Robot adoption will likely be a key determinant of productivity growth and will potentially reshape global supply chains as this trend continues.
Robotics May Increase Employment and Jobs
A number of studies have found no evidence of robotics job loss. Dauth, Findeisen, Suedekum, and Woessner analyzed industrial robots on employment in German labor markets between 1994 and 2014. They found the adoption of industrial robots had no effect on total employment in local labor markets specializing in industries with high robot usage.
Gregory, Salomons, and Zierahn found that, while technology-based automation displaces jobs in an analysis of the impact of automation on jobs in Europe. However, “it has simultaneously created new jobs through increased product demand, outweighing displacement effects and resulting in net employment growth.” Koch, Manuylov, and Smolka found that adoption of robots in manufacturing firms in Spain led to net job creation equaling about 10 percent.
Firm-level studies that show job loss from robots find results that are opposite from virtually all the studies that have examined this at the macroeconomic level. Those latter studies find that productivity growth has no negative effect on employment, at least in the moderate term.
There are a number of reasons why job impacts are likely to be minimal even at the industry level. Mayer found a higher share of robots helps economies’ manufacturing sectors gain global market share. The correlation between robot use and manufacturing as a share of national employment is negative because of this gain, albeit only slightly.
Conversely, it is countries such as Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom that have seen the highest rates of manufacturing job loss over the past two decades. These countries have low rates of manufacturing adoption and automation.
Loss Of Manufacturing Employment Reasons
There are three reasons countries can lose employment in the manufacturing sector. These are: slower growth in manufacturing consumption relative to non-manufacturing consumption, higher manufacturing productivity growth relative to non-manufacturing and reduced output from loss of international competitiveness (e.g. manufacturing exports growing slowly or declining while imports grow).
Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) estimated that over half of the very steep U.S. loss of manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2011 (over 33 percent) was caused by trade (manufacturing imports increasing faster than exports). Less than half resulted from faster manufacturing productivity.
Thus robotic engineering recruiting can be expected to become increasingly more difficult in the future with more job openings than robot experts! The need for software engineers, hardware engineers, mechanical engineers, biomechanical engineers, R&D (research and development) scientists and others working to improve robot technology will soar with further robotics applications.
Call me today at 312-944-4000 to discuss how we can assist with your R&D, engineering, scientific, technical, IT and manufacturing recruitment efforts in the highly competitive fields of Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Virtual (and Augmented) Reality as well as Internet of Things (IoT). Or click here for my full contact information.