Skip to comments.Skilled Work, Without the Worker (New wave of robots replacing workers in manufacturing)
Posted on 08/19/2012 7:23:16 AM PDT by SeekAndFind
At the Philips Electronics factory on the coast of China, hundreds of workers use their hands and specialized tools to assemble electric shavers. That is the old way.
At a sister factory here in the Dutch countryside, 128 robot arms do the same work with yoga-like flexibility. Video cameras guide them through feats well beyond the capability of the most dexterous human.
One robot arm endlessly forms three perfect bends in two connector wires and slips them into holes almost too small for the eye to see. The arms work so fast that they must be enclosed in glass cages to prevent the people supervising them from being injured. And they do it all without a coffee break three shifts a day, 365 days a year.
All told, the factory here has several dozen workers per shift, about a tenth as many as the plant in the Chinese city of Zhuhai.
This is the future. A new wave of robots, far more adept than those now commonly used by automakers and other heavy manufacturers, are replacing workers around the world in both manufacturing and distribution. Factories like the one here in the Netherlands are a striking counterpoint to those used by Apple and other consumer electronics giants, which employ hundreds of thousands of low-skilled workers.
With these machines, we can make any consumer device in the world, said Binne Visser, an electrical engineer who manages the Philips assembly line in Drachten.
Many industry executives and technology experts say Philipss approach is gaining ground on Apples. Even as Foxconn, Apples iPhone manufacturer, continues to build new plants and hire thousands of additional workers to make smartphones, it plans to install more than a million robots within a few years to supplement its work force in China.
(Excerpt) Read more at nytimes.com ...
I completely oppose socialism, big government, or government charity. I don't want a welfare state. However, if the machines do most of the work, then how are YOU going to get a pay check? If you don't need to work, then how are you going to put food on the table?
Once upon a time (early 1800s) the world found that it had too many farm workers -- so people moved off the farms and into cities, and they worked in factories.
Once upon a time (mid 20th century) the US found that it had too many manufacturing workers -- so people moved out to the suburbs and commuted to their jobs in cubicle-land.
At some point, there won't be anywhere to go. We will be producing "stuff" -- but there won't be an obvious justification to give you a pay check so that you can buy the "stuff".
Then what happens?
Robots don't have unions who'll strike, shut down production, and demand more. They don't need Obomacare. They don't need vacation days. They don't need disability payments. They don't need unemployment insurance.
For industry, robotics are a business saving miracle. They don't have to deal with the wanting anymore. People have wanted themselves right out of a job.
Somebody has to build the robots, at least for now, and because the robots are so lucrative, that will be a well paying trade. Now when robots can build other robots, then the world may be on the brink of being taken over by the robots.
This is the biggest and most important issue of our time, and absolutely nobody is talking about it.
Automation results in greatly increased productivity, and historically this has allowed people to move out of drudge or manual labor jobs and up into those requiring greater skill and that receive higher pay.
Those who, IMO, live in the past assume that modern automation and future will always have the same effect.
Unfortunately, many of those displaced by this latest wave of automation are not mentally capable of performing the higher-order skills that remain in demand.
What this means is that more and more people are literally falling out the bottom in our society. There is no economic demand for their services, in any meaningful sense. As such, they are and can only be a net drag on the economy. In other words, if they all disappeared tomorrow, the economy would only be improved in the long run.
As automation continues and accelerates, a larger number of people each year will fall out the bottom. Eventually the only real economic demand will be for very high skill levels, which only a small percentage of the population is capable of performing.
In such a condition, it seems clear to me, that at some point free market principles, which have had a fantastic 400+ year run, start losing their applicability. At least if your goal is the good of society as a whole, and not just the top few percent.
This whole issue is discussed at length in The Bell Curve, which is looking more and more prescient every year.
Interesting... perhaps the manufacturing sector will return to USA. But not the assembly jobs. But new jobs will be created to service the robots and move the raw materials/products as well of think of new ones.
In a few years, we'll be the number one producer of manufactured items and energy providing the politicians don't screw things up.
Until the business attempts to find someone to sell to. It’ll sell to the robotics engineers because they are still indispensable. The others? Not as much so.
” Robots don’t have unions who’ll strike, shut down production, and demand more. They don’t need Obomacare. They don’t need vacation days. They don’t need disability payments. They don’t need unemployment insurance. “
One other thing that robots don’t do - they don’t go out and spend their paychecks on manufactured goods...
YOU are going to become more educated and will learn to design the robots. YOU will also plan the assembly floor plan layout. YOU will program the robots. YOU will also maintain the robots. YOU will perform time studies to see how you can optimize he manufacturing process on order to increase throughput. YOU will earn more than you would have otherwise if you were putting these products together by hand.
YOU are no longer a bank teller. YOU design ATM machines and maintain them.
There are no longer people employed by cities to shovel horse manure from the streets each night due to he invention of the automobile. Oh, pity that.
Great minds and all that.
It is quite possible that capitalism and technology, like other human ideologies and practices, contains the seeds of its own destruction.
I certainly hope I’m wrong, but I doubt it.
What is most interesting to me is that absolutely nobody in politics is discussing this biggest issue of our time, the loss of economic demand for less-intelligent workers.
It is radioactive, at least in this country, because certain minority groups are disproportionately concentrated in the lower IQ range, and therefore any discussion becomes about race. Which in a very real sense has little to do with it.
Try looking at the view point of abundance rather than scarcity.
Humans have shown remarkable resilience whenever industries become outmoded to invent whole new industries to improve our standard of living.
The robots will by and large also be running Linux. Not Windows.
There was a time when people were truly free and could live happily off their own land. They could buy land and actually own it. The political extortionists came along and ruined it all by taxing what wasn't theirs to tax, regulating what wasn't theirs to regulate, and confiscating what wasn't theirs to confiscate.
The problem isn't the freedom to survive. The problem is the lack of freedom to survive.
Somebody has to build the robots, somebody has to repair them, somebody has to supervise production, etc.
There will always be jobs for human beings, but a lot of the bottom line jobs (picking up a piece of wire and threading it through a hole thousands of times a day, for example) will be done by robots. The same was true when things like mechanical looms took over the cottage weaving industry.
We don’t need to be Luddites about this. It’s a fact of life and technology, like it or not, is unstoppable.
Human beings will move to other jobs where being a human being interacting with human beings is important, and technology actually frees us to do that.
I don’t think any of the Chinese semi-slave labor in the factories wants to be there and if they could find some other way to make a living, they would.
Heck, our immigrant chicken pluckers here at the Tyson plants don’t want to spend their days doing this disgusting job, so they save their pennies and go open some tiny business of their own somewhere. But the Chinese don’t have that option.
Humans have shown remarkable resilience whenever industries become outmoded to invent whole new industries to improve our standard of living.
I agree and am really excited about the future now. It feels like the period before personal computers saved the 1980s.
All we need is the busybodies in politics to back off and let the personal sector do what it does best... create new opportunities.
Perhaps ossified attitudes are more to blame than technology shifts for extended inability of people in outmoded crafts to adapt. The boom of the horseless carriage gave the buggy whip maker a new market — in crafting upholstery. But old buggy whip makers and new upholstery manufacturing management both had difficulty in thinking outside of the box.
The point is time and technology moves on,we need to move with it or get left behind. I`m not going to pay thru the nose for either of the lazy idiots to sit at home mooching or needlessly assemble widgets on some assembly loser line.
I don`t know`em and I don`t owe`em!
And somebody has to carry around the stuff that feeds these robots and that the robots make. Ergo, truck driving isn’t going to go away anytime soon.
I disagree with this statement. I believe there is always resistance to new ideas and new skills.
If the government stop extending the unemployment benefits and thus "enabling" workers with outmoded skills to do nothing... the desire and willingness to learn new skills for higher paying jobs will be there.
We are capable of doing amazing things... because we are Americans.
200 years ago, a guy could make a reasonably decent living using only his musculature. There was an economic demand for just the ability to move things around physically. Perhaps most importantly, there was a need for his services, giving him purpose and something resembling personal self-respect.
As the industrial and technological revolutions have advanced, more and more skill and intelligence has been required, as opposed to just strength. Historically this has been wonderful for society. Most people have been able to use their brains rather than bodies to do stuff.
We have now reached the point where an increasing percentage of the jobs for which there is significant demand are beyond the ability of those who are being displaced. I suspect the present displacement is something around one IQ point per year.
Let's say the present IQ for which the supply greatly exceeds the demand is presently 90, and assume that the one IQ point per year "falling out the bottom" remains constant.
What this means is that we are starting to get into the central range of the population, and every year the number displaced that year will greatly increase, and in 10 years we'll be at IQ 100 and 50% of the population will have no meaningful economic role in society.
After that, the number displaced each year will drop off because we're going down the other slope of the bell curve.
Unfortunately, I suspect the IQ displaced each year is not a simple straight line, it's some sort of exponential curve. Things may get worse a great deal faster than my projections.
BTW, this is the major reason for the increasing economic inequality in the world. Increasing demand and limited supply in the upper reaches, and decreasing demand relative to supply in the lower end.
Exactly. We need to think beyond the demise of the Horse Buggy Whip industry...
Please provide proof.
Two words: Post Office
Yeah, well, the earth has been found wanting. Man kind always seems to work toward it's own demise.
Eventually, man will be forced to figure it all out. The only way for man to remain free is to get back to the soil and care for himself, his family, provide a service for the community, and take care of ONLY the truly needy. He doesn't need a politician, or anyone else, to rule over him.
This is what our founding fathers were trying to tell us. If we allow ourselves to be controlled or indebted to anybody, we become their slaves. We suffer the consequences of our own actions.
It's a little late to repair all the damage we've done now, but the coming, unwanted world economic collapse will do it for us. Not until man kind has lost everything will it be truly happy. The happiness - freedom - will be given once again, but it'll be up to man to keep it.
I for one welcome our new robot overlords.
I agree the government needs to back the heck off and let the private industries do what it does best... create new opportunities.
However, 50% of Americans are of less than average intelligence, and my point is that they are not capable of doing the jobs that continue to be in demand.
For example, millions of people presently drive vehicles as part or all of their job.
Present technology has the potential to automate most driving jobs and I suspect it will move into actual use more quickly than we expect.
What are those millions of people supposed to do? I read one article where the author claimed they could be retrained to write apps for the iPad. Does anybody seriously think the majority of bus or taxi drivers are capable of this?
The vast majority of those capable of working in the "real" high-tech economy are already doing so. Few of those displaced by automation will be capable of going into these fields.
Here's the problem, IMO. For two centuries now, there has been an argument between those who say technological advances destroy jobs, and those who say they create more jobs than they eliminate. Group 2 has to date been, overall, correct.
But this is not an economic law, just the way things have worked out to date. My point is that we may be starting to see conditions in which this law no longer applies. Which means we need to start thinking about what might be needed to restructure a society in which the free market really doesn't work for most of the population any more.
To me it is perfectly obvious that a command economy is not the answer, but what is?
I used to work with a bank of painting robots and they took a considerable amount of attention.
Robots are consistent but if they start doing something wrong they consistently do it wrong. People on the other hand can make corrections midstream without missing a beat.
The luddites would have all of us making our own clothes and boots by hand.
Some were upset and angry with the idea of the division of labor... you know.. I make the heel, you make the laces and someone else puts the pieces together.
The jobs that robots do are probably jobs robots should be doing. Freeing up people to do more important things in an ideal economy. We need to liberate the economy from the grasps of government and set it free!
Proof of what?
That certain minority groups are disproportionately concentrated in the lower IQ range?
Or that any discussion of whether people in lower IQ groups are capable of performing certain jobs immediately deteriorates into cries of racism?
If we can keep the government and Luddites at bay, automation will continue to give us greater access to more products while simultaneously creating NEW job opportunities which yes require new skills and new people to teach those skills.
The sewing machine is automation but should we go back to everyone sewing everything by hand?
The modern printing press has increased speeds from 1 page per 10 seconds to thousands of impressions per hour yet even in an age of diminished hard copy printing more people have more access to more printed material and once again new jobs were created requiring new skills and people to teach those skill.
The killer in all of this has been and always will be those with the government control mindset. The founder knew it and we used to know it until unionized teachers deconstructed our history.
Do you know the percent of the US private sector workforce is in a union?
As I stated in a previous post... I think the government isn't helping matters any with regulations to protect a dying sector or extending unemployment benefits. It only encourages displaced workers to entrench and sit out a while and "hope."
And those extinct manufacturing jobs aren't coming back any time soon.
The big problem is that it takes BRAINS to build an maintain these machines. We still have an education system that is the laughing stock of the world...so can we compete, despite this handicap?
You’ve said enough.
problem: Public schools, Media
Interesting to see the NY Slimes take on this subject.... and pretty revealing as well. I work in manufacturing and see millions of dollars in robots working every day. I also see the men and women who work with them and are needed to make them work correctly.
Robots provide reliability and consistency in terms of manufacturing processes, but they also come with skilled people who program, maintain, install, and support them on a daily basis. These workers are educated and generally well compensated.
However, from a very pro-Union media outlet like the Slimes, these robots represent a threat to unions and their overwhelmingly liberal voting base. The elimination of low skilled, repetitive process intensive workers means the unions will lose this essential core element to their membership.
The worst thing possible to unions and their existence are educated workers who don’t need to rely on unions and their thugs to extort management. This shows their true colors, in my opinion. Unions would rather companies depend on low-skilled uneducated workers, who they need to fill their union coffers, rather than see people become educated and succeed on their own. Another, typical example of how liberals want people to become dependent on society, rather than prosper.
Even here in Michigan the union percentage was up to 18.3% in 2011 which is only 1% higher than 2010. Still too high but the trend is downward over all. in 1989 is was 27.8%
When I was in the union we had a no strike clause which was a good thing for everyone. We were relatively low paid but had good benefits but our no strike clause kept us working while others around us were on strike.
Thank you for making my case for me better than I can.
We cannot even discuss the facts, as best we know them, of this situation, because they infringe on our most sensitive societal taboos.
The problem is that you have not disproven my assertion that this is a looming problem, you have just refused to discuss it. Unfortunately, this doesn’t make the problem go away. It merely ensures that we won’t take action to deal with it.
Not that I have any idea of what action would work.
Duh, 50% are always going to be less than average no matter what and there will always be a bottom 10% even when they are all millionaires. lol.
I think automation is a very good thing for us.
In 1950 the US steel industry employed 600,000 people and produced 87.9 million metric tons of steel.
In 2011 the US steel industry employed 85,000 people and produced 86.2 million metric tons of steel.
So we are able to produce the same output but with 7 times less workers.
While that is true, it is still a ways off.
What these robots can do now and in the near future is replace workers who were outsourced to other countries in the last 20 years. So the jobs will come back, but they will be give to robots. People in low wage countries have the most to lose, because robots can work cheaper than they can, and with machinery the competative advantage is the local energy cost. (Which is why on nearly every energy thread I am always advocating lowering the cost of energy to compete in the global marketplace)
We also have to consider that we are in the bursting of a demographic bubble, and these robots will actually be necessary because of the enormous amount of boomers retiring.
Not only can they print tools, they can print their own parts!
The right to be self sufficient without government intervention or oppression. The right to own property and live off it freely. (The Amish got it right. They're untouchable. When all else fails, they'll just see it as another day.)
Those who can't, or choose not to, work for someone else can work to provide for themselves. THIS is real freedom. This is how America is suppose to be. This is what it was like before we allowed our own government to enslave us.
The founding fathers warned us. We didn't listen. If we don't offer up our tythes to Uncle Sam, we lose everything. We don't even have our own land to fall back on to grow our food. They take everything away from us.
I once visited a Vermont American plant and watched a robot make paddle bits. Amazing.
In another part of the plant was another robot building the robot that made the paddle bits. Really amazing.