In a world where everyone has a computer in their pocket and a robot on the shop floor, more manufacturers are worried that these technologies will eventually lead to joblessness. This fear has been around since the 1970’s, when industrial robotic systems starting making their debut on factory floors. Yet this may not be the case.
The VDMA Robotics and Automation Association has conducted a recent study to investigate the claims that automation and robotic systems are creating mass layoffs throughout the manufacturing industry. Instead, they found that in Germany, which is Europe’s largest buyer of industrial robotic systems, an increase in robot’s coincided with a rise in employment. It may sound counter-intuitive, but when looking at the new kinds of robotic systems that these companies are implementing, it might begin to make more sense.
Traditional industrial robots used to have to stay secluded from the rest of the human employees by large safety cages. This was because they were the most rudimentary form of robotic systems, performing a predetermined action with very little variation and zero situational awareness. If a human employee was unlucky enough to cross paths with one of these behemoth pieces of machinery, they would be seriously hurt. But this is all changing.
Modern facilities are making use of new collaborative robotic systems which can work side by side human employees without the risk of bodily injury. Some human skills would be impossible to replicate such as ingenuity, knowledge, dexterity and creativity. Instead of completely replacing an employee, these collaborative robots, also known as Co-bots, would enhance the workforce, increasing efficiency and the potential for productivity.
Mercedes is a great example of a manufacturer that is rethinking their automation practices to enhance their workforce, rather than replace them all together. Most of their industrial robotic systems are more than 40 years old, they are looking to modernize their automation practices to keep up with the rapidly advancing technological age we live in today. They see the Co-bots potential and ability to remain agile in the dynamic environment that is the factory floor.
Smaller and midsized manufacturers that were not able to take advantage of older industrial robot systems due to the room they require, or their extremely high cost, are now looking at Co-bots. These incredible machines are much more affordable, and removing the need for safety cages, opens up a brand new market. For example, RethinkRobotics developed Baxter, a collaborative robot with a base price of $25,000. This relatively low-cost allows even SME’s to enhance their workforce and their shop floor with state of the art collaborative automation technology without having to justify the expense by mass layoffs.
Manufacturers might not have to worry just yet about losing their job to 21st century advanced collaborative robotic systems. Instead, they will be, just like the name suggests, collaborating and working alongside these incredible pieces of technology. There is still too much a human can do that a robot simply cannot. Collaborative robotic systems are offering so much to so many, improving efficiency, productivity and enhancing the manufacturing workforce rather than replacing them.