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Official proof that robots build jobs

Mike Wilson, ABB

Robotics UK's General Industry Sales and Marketing Manager,

explains why the findings of a recent report are good news for both

manual workers and robots alike.

Many of us are understandably concerned about job security as the aftermath of the global economic tsunami continues to reverberate. So it’s little wonder that the growing presence of robots in manufacturing makes many people anxious about being displaced by automated systems. But the good news is that robots are actually extremely good at creating and protecting jobs, as revealed by a recent study.

The report from London market research company Metra Martech on behalf of the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) found that robots will help create more than two million jobs over the next eight years. While it acknowledges that certain jobs will be reduced it stresses that many more jobs are set to be created thanks to the boost in productivity and competitiveness that robotics deliver in manufacturing enterprises.

By the end of 2011, robots had directly created between four and six million jobs in world manufacturing, which is equivalent to about three to five jobs for each robot in use. And once factories can compete more effectively in the global market, the communities around them also benefit, so the robots had a knock-on effect on indirect jobs of between eight and 10 million.

Better still, the IFR report says that these jobs are likely to be generally better-paid than those that the robots displace. In other words, the use of robotics effectively helps companies to level the playing field in markets with very different wage structures. This is great news for people in places like the USA and Europe, where we’re already seeing evidence of a gradual ‘reshoring’ of manufacturing jobs.

The potential impact of robotics in any given country will depend on how many jobs depend

42 SURFACE WORLD may 2013

on manufacturing. While manufacturing accounts for 11% of employment in the USA, for instance, it’s 24% in Germany and even higher in South Korea. But the adoption rate of robots (measured in number of robots per 10,000 employees in manufacturing) between 2008 and 2011 is on the rise everywhere: by 40% in Brazil, 210% in China, 11% in Germany, 57% in South Korea and by 41% in the USA. Even the UK, traditionally a slow adopter of robotic technology, saw an 82 percent growth in robot take-up in 2012.

So which are the industries where robots are making the biggest difference? Cars is the obvious one where the robotic revolution has already changed the game, but likely candidates going forward include pharm- aceuticals and especially food, where many of the physically-demanding manual jobs are pretty unrewarding for human workers and can even lead to health problems such as repetitive strain injury.

Of course, people’s fear remains that the sole driving force for companies to invest in robotics is to drive down labour costs. While it would be naïve to suggest that this wasn’t a consideration, other major drivers include increasing manufacturing precision and production consistency, as well as reducing work-related accidents and injuries, all of which provide obvious benefits for people looking for a safe working environment in a company with a secure future.

In short, the addition of robots to the workforce can be the shot in the arm that manufacturing businesses need to compete in the global market, safeguarding jobs and providing benefits for both workers and employers.

The report “Positive Impact of Industrial Robots on Employment” was published by Metra Martech in February.

For more information about the report or about how you could benefit from robotic automation, email or call +44 (0) 1908 350300 ref. ‘Surface World article’.

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