Advanced and collaborative robots are answering the call of a diminishing manufacturing labor force.

The automation industry is seeing a shift in its labor force. As many current workers get ready to retire, a younger workforce has yet to arrive to take its place. In response to this shortfall, the advanced robotic market has grown significantly. Advanced robotic systems and collaborative robots are taking center stage at a time when manufacturing industries need them the most.

The declining manufacturing workforce in both Canada and the U.S. The Deloitte/Manufacturing Institute study (2012) included a survey of manufacturing executives, who expressed concern about the workforce skills gap. Seventy-four percent of the survey respondents reported that workforce shortages or skills deficiencies in production roles are having a significant impact on their ability to expand operations or improve productivity.

According to Jennifer McNelly, president of the Manufacturing Institute, the challenge will “only grow as the demographics of our workforce evolve with retirements, new technological advances requiring a higher level of training and certification, and our K-12 education system, which continues to lack the necessary focus on STEM education.”

This future labor shortage does, however, present an opportunity for robotic systems. Advances in robotics—especially collaborative robots, robotic safety, and a faster return of investment—have increased the use of robots. According to a 2015 study from the Boston Consulting Group, the current percent of industries installing advanced robots are around 2% to 3% annually.

In certain industries, the use of robots for manual labor may see a jump of 40% or more. The price of hardware and software is projected to decrease by more than 20% within the same timeframe. The performance of robots is expected to increase around 5% each year.

The study conducted by the Boston Consulting Group analyzed 21 industries in the world’s 25 leading manufacturing export economies. This accounts for more than 90% of the global trade in goods.

Their predictions are:

  • By 2025, robots will perform 25% of all labor tasks. This is due to improvements in performance and reduction in costs.
  • The United States along with Canada, Japan, South Korea, and the United Kingdom will be leading the way in robot adoption.
  • The four industries leading the charge are computer and electronic products; electrical equipment and appliances; transportation equipment; and machinery. They will account for 75% of all robotic installations till 2025.
  • Due to a wider adoption of robots, especially for small manufacturers, worker output will increase by 30%.
  • Labor cost is expected to decrease 18% to 25% in countries like the United States, China, Germany, and Japan.
  • Leading countries in robot adoption will see an improvement in national cost competitiveness. For example, South Korea will see a 6% point improvement relative to the United States by 2025 if all other factors stay the same; driving up their manufacturing output. High-cost countries like Russia and Brazil will see their relative cost competitiveness decrease.
  • Manufacturing tasks will become more complex with the adoption of more robots. Low-cost laborers will be required to master new skills and work in conjunction with the robots in order to succeed, and to continue working in the advanced manufacturing plants.

To prepare for the new role robotics will play in manufacturing, industries need to understand the global landscape. They will need a clear understanding of the trends in robot adoption, including the price point and the performance capabilities, and how these factors will change in relation to the total cost of labor. These companies will also have to know how to benchmark the competition and be aware of how their competitors are handling robotic integration.

Companies will be required to stay current with technological advances. If a firm is considering investing in robots and see that new gripping features or flexibility are on the way, they may choose to hold off on investing until the right moment. Lastly, they will need to prep the workforce and the organization.

>> Read more by Carlos Gonzalez, Machine Design, October 27, 2016



Advanced Robotic Systems: The Manufacturing Labor Force of Tomorrow