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In praise of apprenticeships and robotics ‘roadmaps’

Brett Brune
By Brett Brune Editor in Chief, Smart Manufacturing

All the hand-wringing around robotics and jobs in the US really needs to stop. It’s astounding that manufacturers here are still fighting this battle.

Meanwhile, manufacturers around the world, including in China, are busy figuring out how quickly to acquire robots. They will eat the lunch of those who just can’t seem to get with the program.

At the Automate conference in Chicago five months ago, Association for Advancing Automation (A3) President Jeff Burnstein patiently took on the topic. He presented a white paper in which A3 reviewed the last seven years and pointed to real-life examples of robotics applications keeping companies competitive.

“Competitiveness is the key to job growth,” he said, noting that robotics help companies become more competitive in the global marketplace.

From 2010 to 2016, 136,748 robots were shipped to US customers—the most in any seven-year period in the US robotics industry, A3 said.

In that same period, manufacturing employment increased by 894,000 and the US unemployment rate fell to 4.7% in 2016 from 9.8% in 2010.

A3 pointed to two specific examples: Amazon and GM.

When it introduced robots in 2014, Amazon had more than 45,000 employees. “While the company continues to add robots to its operations, it has grown to over 90,000 employees, with a drive to hire more than 100,000 new people by the end of 2018,” the firm said in the white paper.

General Motors grew from 80,000 US employees in 2012 to 105,000 in 2016, while increasing the number of new US robot applications by about 10,000, A3 added. “We see similar results from multi-national companies with thousands of employees, to small manufacturing companies.”

But an increasing skills gap in the US manufacturing industry will make it difficult for companies that strive to follow the example set by Amazon and GM to fill sustainable jobs, A3 said in its white paper. (To read the daily story, go to tinyurl.com/BOTSandJOBS)

Of course, industry is only partly to blame for not adequately adjusting to the reality that robots are here to stay.

Fathers and mothers need to adjust to the fact that children need to be educated differently, Burnstein noted.

A stronger focus on apprenticeships will help fill the skills gap, he said.

For help with that, and for help developing a robotics “roadmap,” try the ARM Institute: tinyurl.com/kxx9qmz

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