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Posts Tagged ‘Elkhart’

We noted in our previous post how Elkhart, Indiana now leads the nation in robots per capita.  That opened us up to the broader topic of just where robots do, and don’t fit best.  We noted how analyses reported on by The Wall Street Journal found that the most successful robot-implementing companies have found it best to assign “repetitive, precise tasks to robots, freeing human workers to undertake creative, problem-solving duties that machines aren’t very good at.“

The big question becomes, do robots displace workers, or do they simply take on more of the “repetitive tasks” so that humans can handle the higher-value work?  In other words, do companies and their employees win or lose?

It turns out that at places like Robert Bosch in Germany and at BMW here in the U.S., letting robots take on the strenuous, dangerous and repetitive tasks have led to all-around benefits.  For example, over the past decade of automation efforts, BMW has doubled its annual auto production at it Spartanburg, S.C. plant, while more than doubling its workforce – all while handling vastly more complex autos with five times the number of parts previously used.  Clearly, that’s a win-win, both for the company and its employees.

Tesla has struggled a bit more with production of its Model 3 in Fremont, CA.  There, the use of robots reportedly got “out of hand” and caused production bottlenecks, thus halving the number of cars that could be produced each week.  One key mistake was for Tesla to try to automate much of the final assembly work, where everything has to come together.  Put simply, they learned, automating in final assembly doesn’t work.

In the end, it is reported that robots have resulted in pay cuts for low-skilled machine operators and they have eliminated positions in some occupations, like simple manufacturing, especially where there aren’t value-added jobs for those workers to move to.  For example, mining giant Rio Tinto is laying off drivers as it implements self-driving trucks which can operate longer than humans and are more reliable.  Underground, robotic drilling rigs have taken over the dangerous work of inserting explosive in shafts.

Similarly, garment and footwear workers are losing their out to technological breakthroughs made on robots that increasingly have taken on more delicate tasks like manipulating pliable fabrics.

But at an “aggregate level” the jobs created by automation outnumber those being destroyed, according to analysis done at M.I.T.  It’s just that those losing jobs are not necessarily the ones who are gaining those new jobs, as different skills are usually required.  In the U.K. for example, 800,000 lower-skilled jobs have been lost to automation in the past 15 years, but automation has created 3.5 million higher-skilled ones, according to Deloitte.  In Germany, industrial employment will rise nearly 2% by 2021 because robots are making the country’s factories more competitive.

The key, of course, is training.  While indeed many newer, better, safer, less tedious an better paying jobs will be created by this current onslaught of automation, the challenge to businesses, schools and nations will be in how quickly they can adapt to this changing landscape and create the training programs, education and internships that will be required to handle this inevitable wave of innovation.  It’s a challenge for everyone, and few jobs will be immune – but the ingenuity required and unleashed are sure to fulfill the dreams of the next generation for the course of the 21st century.

 

 

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According to Kiplinger’s, Elkhart, Indiana leads the nation in most robots per capita.  Elkhart has seen “a boom in manufacturing related to the city’s thriving bus- and RV-making industries,” noted The Kiplinger Letter in its March, 2018 issue.

With a strong economy giving rise to increased demand for RVs and cities ordering new business now that finances have improved, denizens of Elkhart are employed to the max and they, and the factory robots, are busy working overtime.  Kiplinger’s notes how Elkhart’s “tech-savvy workforce is drawing more manufacturers to the region, including boat builders,” and concludes with the comment that it’s a success story “other regions will be trying to emulate.”

Meanwhile, as The Wall Street Journal reports recently, robots are taking over some of the jobs that, frankly, you’d want them to.  Like picking up scalding-hot auto parts from an oven and inspecting them for safety, as happened at a Robert Bosch plant in Germany.  Not only does the robot reduce exposure to serious injury to the human worker, but that human worker now has the time to test 20% more parts than he did before the robots arrived.

So which industries are helped the most by automation, both for the employer and the employee?

Those who have, in the words of Journal editor William Wilkes, “cracked the code” are those that “can assign repetitive, precise tasks to robots, freeing human workers to undertake creative, problem-solving duties that machines aren’t very good at.“  That means, in short, manufacturing, the food sector and certain service sectors jobs such as billing, where time spreadsheets can be automated, freeing up workers to do higher-value tasks.

None of the above should come as a surprise, logically speaking.  Bosch factories worldwide how use 140 robotic arms, up from zero just 7 years ago, and as a result, an engineer there said “We can’t see robots having a negative impact on our workforce.”

As it turns out, robots and computers are best suited to repetitive – even if very highly or complex math-based – tasks, from playing chess or repeating a set of precise movements, while they pale in comparison to humans in the seemingly mundane tasks like brushing your teeth or running through the woods.

In the end, tasks best left to humans remain those that require involving judgment and quality control, while leaving the heavy lifting – often, quite literally – to the machines.

In our concluding post on robots in industry today, we’ll take a quick look at where they’ve made most sense, and what impact they’ve had on employment and the types of jobs they are creating today.  So, stay tuned…

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