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Robotics: the basis of a paradigm shift

Rethinking what we already know

It’s quite possible that we’ll look back on these times as nothing more than the period when robots saved our butts. It will have been the last chapter of the impulsive off-shoring experiment (see more). Hopefully we’ll see it as the time that we made that end run that moved us from fixating on symptomatic job losses to experimenting with new realms of efficiency and productivity we had only imagined previously. We’ll look back favorably to the time we addressed the domestic manufacturing employment problem for what it was, a moment of decreasing demand. “Robotics” and machine intelligence will have come of age.

For now, continued adoption will be key because robotics is inevitability. An open mindset is an imperative because the kinds of changes that will ensue are nothing short of significant. But the upshot is this: advanced robotic technology will eventually render labor a far less significant component of overall production costs allowing more expansion. At the same time, robotics will create more jobs as a result of 1) increased demand and 2) burgeoning new, yet undefined markets. These factors are not unlike the sweeping changes, and eventual benefit automation brought with it.

Proponents argue, “… robots will reduce the cost of labor and that will allow some of the U.S. off shore manufacturing operations [the parts that make sense] to come back to the states…. When you keep the money in the country it is going to increase the number of jobs eventually.” —Rodney Brooks, founder of Rethink Robotics

Sheltered but not contained

The potential for robotic technology is hard to imagine. What started as a natural extension of automation, 60 years ago, has now spawned numerous new vertical markets. “Droids” and “drones” have become common vernacular. The unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or flying robots) are a good example. In a relatively short time they have changed the face of modern warfare helping to make military defense safer, cheaper, more tactical and less visceral. Sheltered under the wings of automation/programmable machines, robots are now flying themselves.

Demand in brief:

  • The trend towards automation was interrupted briefly by the crisis in 2009 and restarted in 2010
  • The total worldwide stock of operational industrial robots at the end of 2011 was in the range of 1,153,000 and 1,400,000 units
  • The above is three times the figure in 1993; 275 times that of 1980
  • Sales of robots increased by 38% to 166,028 units, by far the highest level ever recorded for one year (2011)
  • The automotive industry and the metal industry followed by electronics were the main drivers of the strong recovery

Caveat: In 2011, the Republic of Korea reached the highest robot density in the world—so the race for dominance continues.

Source: International Federation of Robotics

The other famous paradigm shift

The machine age, and the efficiencies it brought with it, was the backbone of the industrial revolution. When machine tools came of age and left the freehand human guidance of the toolpath in its shavings, manufacturing—and its workforce—were set free. Tools became machines and hand tools cut another path. It’s difficult to overstate how much the industrial revolution affected every aspect of life as we know it. In the 60 to 80 years of its gestation, jobs, income, comfort and the population itself began to grow at unprecedented levels. Efficiency became a discipline and we never looked back.

Are we experiencing a similar “Age” of robotics currently?

Before you answer, remember that revolutions are rarely seen or understood in the moment, much less the opportunities that surround them. More often these “Ages” are convenient labels we apply later with 20/20 hind site. Unfortunately, few ever find themselves in the right place to enjoy the moment as it plays out.

The age of automation started in the early 1950s and continues to this day. The innovations it brought with it increased purchasing power across the board. It has been a net job creator because it lowered retail prices and, increased demand, wages and profit. Advancing robotics will do the same thing. It’s a second wave and we need to continue to increase productivity.

The debate ensues

Will robots steal jobs or will its contribution increase your capacity so you can handle more business? There’s plenty of debate over jobs creation versus jobs displacement but fundamentally robots are “designed” to increase productivity. Look for short-term advancements in intelligence, sight recognition and friendliness (enabling humans to interact more freely alongside).

One million industrial robots currently in operation have been directly responsible for the creation of close to three million jobs…. Robots will help to create jobs in some of the most critical industries of this century: consumer electronics, food, solar & wind power, and advanced battery manufacturing to name just a few.” —Positive Impact of Industrial Robots on Employment—by market research firm, Metra Martech

 Last word:

 We need to let robots take over [that’s the paradigm shift we need]. They will do jobs we have been doing, and do them much better than we can. They will do jobs we can’t do at all. They will do jobs we never imagined even needed to be done. And they will help us discover new jobs for ourselves, new tasks that expand who we are. They will let us focus on becoming more human than we were.” —Wired

HIT Solutions believes the more your business keeps up with important trends, the more you will improve your product, and improve your bottom line.

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