John Denslinger argues that the biggest single benefit of the robotic and AI revolution will be higher paying jobs, created and maintained locally
Much has been written about the future of the American workplace with the continued advancement of robotics and AI. Sifting through this mountain of information, I’m betting the casual reader just wants to know: will it affect me, my job or my way-of-life? Basically, it’s the age-old five Ws: who, what, when, where and why?
To understand who might be affected, let’s explore ‘what’ first. Collectively, robotics and AI are next-generation automation tools. I believe most can easily comprehend automation when discussing the factory. We instinctively understand the need for automating highly repetitive tasks, critical processes and inspections. Today, in our electronics factories industrial robots, advanced vison systems and state-of-the-art sensors perform almost all: component placements; small- and large-scale assembly; inspections; testing; dispensing and packing. As robotic and AI integration advances, the combined technology will ensnare more complex human functions such as decision making, optimization of workflows and machine learning. Then add cobots (collaborative robots). These robotic forms extend human productivity via increased payload carrying capabilities or side-by-side adaptive workload assistance.
So, ‘when’ and ‘where’ will this happen? Frankly, it actually started back in 1961 when the automotive industry introduced the first prototype robot for spot welding at a GM factory in New Jersey. From that humble beginning, billions of dollars have been spent since by US and foreign automakers on more adaptive, semi-autonomous robots for soldering, welding, painting, milling, cutting, assembly and disassembly. Now the fastest growing market for automation is electrical/electronics. Across the board, our industry has accelerated deployment of robots and AI especially in factory applications.
‘Why’ the sudden effort to automate everything? Microelectronics manufacturing demands precision. The trend for components and end products is ever-constant miniaturization. These units are more difficult to make and assemble absent advanced vision and sensor capabilities. With a lack of skilled workers, an aging workforce, and comparatively high employment costs automation solves a lot of concerns. As AI evolves, look for more tasks in non-production areas to be automated as well.
Now we come to the last and most important W: ‘who’. Who is most likely impacted by robotic and AI implementations? Well, if you are a factory worker chances are you have already experienced one or more automations. Applied appropriately, productivity should have risen enabling more output with less effort. Extensive training should have complimented the installation. That alone increases one’s personal skill set and overall value to a company. Look for future robotics replacing workers in hazardous or dangerous work environments, exoskeletons for those engaged in strenuous tasks, and cobots assisting humans in such tasks as packing, shipping and warehousing. On the office side, a number of tasks within customer service, purchasing, sales and product design are ripe for AI. It’s likely no reductions in personnel will occur, but training will once again be center stage. The primary gain here is better decision making, optimal execution, improved reliability, absolute consistency and flawless customer service.
Will it affect me, my job, or my way-of-life? Yes, of course it will, but adapting to change and embracing re-training are keys for success. It could be said the biggest single benefit of the robotic and AI revolution is jobs. Higher paying jobs. Jobs created and maintained here, not over there.