What About Robots?

What About Robots?Obviously, we’re pretty big advocates for American manufacturing here at Manufacturing Nebraska. But just like concerns about Americans in manufacturing losing jobs to workers and factories overseas, there are also concerns about what’s going to happen as manufacturing continues to get more technical.

What’s going to happen to workers? Will everyone in the factory be replaced by robots?

We’re here to tell you today that fears of manufacturing jobs being replaced by robots are by-and-large unfounded.

Manufacturers are well aware of these concerns. Sure, robots are becoming increasingly common in factories, but that also leaves plenty of room for humans, too. Two terms are relevant to the conversation here: the human-automation intersection, and the idea of the smart factory.

The human-automation intersection

Not too long ago, AutomationWorld published an article called “The Human-Automation Intersection” where they discussed the place of humans in factories that are growing more and more streamlined over time. The biggest takeaway from the article is that automation is making humans work better just as humans are making automation more efficient. The relationship has three parts:

  • Direct operator interaction: The role of the plant manager is no longer to run the plant–it’s to supervise the automation system.
  • Decision support: Making decisions about the role of technology in the plant. Efficiency is key, but it still takes people to figure out what decisions to make.
  • Automation asset management: Essentially, this means deflecting disturbances in the plant. The operators in the plant must keep efficiency high and keep things in order.

While factories aren’t the same as they used to be in many senses, humans do still have a role. People in manufacturing are starting to get more technical, and the plants and machines still have to be run and supervised–showing why more STEM skills are required now than ever.

The smart factory

IndustryWeek’s article on the dawn of the smart factory goes into even more detail about the problem at hand with more robots and optimization in factories. The smart factory does a few things (very much similar to the human-automation intersection):

  • Has more intelligent machines. Machines are connected with advanced controls, sensors, and software, allowing more complicated production to take place.
  • Had more advanced analytics. New technology allows problems to be solved before they even turn up.
  • Has more people at work. People’s roles are changing. Much more focus now is on increasing efficiency and improving safety. New plant designs allow for much more efficient production with different roles for workers in the factory.

The smart factory is the future. It’s more technical than ever before and things like more automation and robots are just a part of the future of manufacturing plants. What these two terms show is the increasing advancement of factories, and illuminate why there are so many open jobs in manufacturing.

Working with new machines and increased automation means more technical jobs. But the important thing is that the jobs aren’t going away any time soon. Instead of basic skills, manufacturing jobs now require technical skills and knowledge in order to support the infrastructure that these jobs need. The factories of the future are very technical, but jobs aren’t being replaced. In most instances, they’re just being changed to more technical roles.

photo credit: jurvetson via photopin cc