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Creating jobs while automating manufacturing… Can the two work hand-in-hand?

Posted on by wildfireDev1

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Note: This blog post is a summary of an article from DCVelocity.com.

With unemployment rates at their highest levels in decades, we do need jobs. We need them badly. But if we hope to drive economic growth, we also have to kick-start manufacturing productivity. That is, we have to find better, faster, and cheaper ways to make products.

Problem is, history has shown that it’s tough to achieve both objectives at once. While countless companies have realized double-digit productivity gains through automation and robotics, the gains have often come at the price of jobs. But it doesn’t have to be that way. A number of companies in the logistics and supply chain world have made that clear.

Take Crown Equipment Corp., for example. Crown recently brought 50 welding robots on line in its lift truck manufacturing operations, but the move didn’t result in a round of layoffs. Instead, the company will retrain the affected employees and shift them to new jobs.

It’s the same situation at Mitsubishi Caterpillar Forklift America (MCFA) and Toyota Material Handling USA. MCFA has automated its painting process and brought in robotic welders and metal-cutters, while Toyota has introduced automated guided vehicles into its manufacturing process. Neither companies changes however resulted in a blizzard of pink slips. These companies, like Crown Equipment Corp., simply reassigned workers to other positions.

While Crown, MCFA, and Toyota have proven that it’s possible to preserve jobs when automating operations, another company takes the argument a step further. Seegrid Corp., a maker of robotic technology, contends that bringing in robotic devices can actually create jobs in the long term. David Heilman, the company’s chief administrative officer explained to DCVelocity.com, “Our customers are growing and innovating by using robots to increase facility productivity and efficiency to become more profitable, thus expanding their operations and adding more jobs.”

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), a federal agency that promotes U.S. manufacturing competitiveness, has reached the same conclusion as Seagrid. On a section of its website NIST cites a report by the Computing Community Consortium that concludes in part that “[robotics] clearly represents one of the few technologies capable in the near term of building new companies and creating new jobs.”

Will all of these efforts put more Americans back to work? Only time will tell. But how great would it be if robots and people could work hand-in-hand?

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