U.S. flag and robot hand

The World Has Embraced Robots. So Should the U.S.

Aug. 2, 2019
America has long been a forerunner in several other revolutions — industrial, technological, and digital. But is the United States prepared for the robotic revolution?

The world’s average robot density is 74 robots per 10,000 employees, according to the World Robot Statistics. With 189 robots per 10,000 employees, the U.S. sits comfortably above the average. However, despite welcoming robotics to automotive production lines as early as the 1960s, the nation is still perceived as keeping automation at arm’s length.

In 2016, the country began to climb the robot density ranks and, today, we rank seventh in the world behind South Korea, Singapore, Germany, Japan, Sweden, and Denmark. This figure has been significantly boosted by the necessary modernization of U.S. production facilities, as well as a growing demand for products made in the U.S. What’s more, robot sales in the U.S. are expected to increase by at least 15% per year between now and 2020. Put simply, the market is showing no signs of slowing down.

Despite the rapid uptake in automation, more than 70% of Americans still express wariness and concern about the rise of robots in our workplaces, according to Pew Research. Perhaps they have read the report by the McKinsey Global Institute stating that 73 million current U.S. jobs could be replaced by automation by 2030. This sounds threatening, but is the robot revolution really such a bad thing?

Arguably not. Consider this as an example. A manufacturer that saves money on labor by using automation has two options: lower product prices or generate more profit. Both outcomes can result in increased investment, higher demand and, in turn, more opportunity for employment.

This isn’t just theoretical. In Europe, the SPARC research project is a partnership scheme set to increase Europe’s robotics adoptions. It’s estimated that it will help create 240,000 jobs on the continent as a result of implementing and maintaining automated processes.

Amazon also provides a U.S. example of this phenomenon, albeit in warehousing rather than manufacturing. Over three-years, the company increased the number of robots in its storerooms from 1,400 to a colossal 45,000. During the same period, the rate at which the company hires workers did not slow, as the company’s capacity also increased due to automation.

Increased use of robots forces a shift from manually intensive labor to jobs that require human skills—skills that robots cannot replicate. Rather than overseeing repetitive manufacturing tasks, such as the pick-and-place and assembly processes usually associated with SCARA robots, increased automation can let workers manage more complex roles.

America didn’t shy away from spearheading the industrial, technological, or digital revolutions. As a nation, we cannot ignore the growing implications of failing to adopt today’s robotics and automated technologies. The U.S. needs to further embrace the robotics technology or risk getting left behind in the global manufacturing race.

Ryan Gutherie is executive vice president of TM Robotics, a firm that distributes six-axis, Cartesian, and SCARA robots from Toshiba Machine. TM Robotics has a vested interest in improving America’s perception of automation. For further information click here.

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