Working Relationship with Robots Will Lead to New Opportunities

February 6, 2013

Implementing automation allows companies to be more — to be more productive, to be more globally competitive, to be more efficient. Reflecting on the history of technology and economy, we know that automation is a dynamic force in industry. Kevin Kelly predicts a future of automation that will surprise us — technology that performs jobs we never knew needed doing and that gives us opportunities we are just beginning to understand.

Better Than Human: Why Robots Will — And Must — Take Our Jobs
by Kevin Kelly

That may be true of making stuff, but a lot of jobs left in the world for humans are service jobs. I ask Brooks to walk with me through a local McDonald’s and point out the jobs that his kind of robots can replace. He demurs and suggests it might be 30 years before robots will cook for us. “In a fast food place you’re not doing the same task very long. You’re always changing things on the fly, so you need special solutions. We are not trying to sell a specific solution. We are building a general-purpose machine that other workers can set up themselves and work alongside.” And once we can cowork with robots right next to us, it’s inevitable that our tasks will bleed together, and soon our old work will become theirs—and our new work will become something we can hardly imagine.

To understand how robot replacement will happen, it’s useful to break down our relationship with robots into four categories, as summed up in this chart:

The rows indicate whether robots will take over existing jobs or make new ones, and the columns indicate whether these jobs seem (at first) like jobs for humans or for machines. […]

We need to let robots take over. They will do jobs we have been doing, and do them much better than we can. They will do jobs we can’t do at all. They will do jobs we never imagined even needed to be done. And they will help us discover new jobs for ourselves, new tasks that expand who we are. They will let us focus on becoming more human than we were.

Read the full article at Wired. What do you think of Kelly’s conclusions? What new tasks do you see us delegating to automation? How will the proliferation of robotics expand our own capabilities?

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Robots Allow Humans to Innovate the Future

February 4, 2013

As robotics and automation become increasingly important to American industry, their implementation raises a certain number of questions, mostly concerned with the interaction between technology and human worker. Some people would say that the adoption of robotics will lead to vast unemployment and the widening gap of wealth. But many other people would counter that these alarmists aren’t seeing the whole picture–

Man vs. robot
by Peter Nowak

It’s easy to tell when a new technology has reached critical mass – discussions over its long-term effects start kicking into overdrive. That’s happening now with robots and how they are going to affect the human job market.

Conventional thinking has always held that automation and robots have historically been good things, because when a machine takes over a task, the human who used to do it is forced to do something smarter and better. This has had traditional repercussions both great and small, from auto assembly line workers necessarily having to upgrade their skills or maybe even start their own businesses, to regular people simply not having to remember minutiae like phone numbers because machines do it for them. Machines have traditionally freed our brains to worry about other, more important stuff.

However, in a recent 60 Minutes interview, MIT professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Bruce Welty raised a worrying issue – that robotic development has now reached the exponential phase, which means that machines are taking over human tasks faster than humans can come up with new and better things to do. […]

Wired writer Kevin Kelly, on the other hand, takes a more optimistic approach when he says that we can’t even imagine the jobs we’ll create because of this increasing automation. Humans’ role in the future will thus be the same as it is now: to create jobs that only people can do at first, with those tasks eventually falling to machines, whereupon the cycle will keep repeating.

Read the full article at Macleans. What are your thoughts? What sort of highly-automated world can you imagine? What sort of creativity will we employ as we start creating new jobs?


Successful Automate Show Tells Full Story of Automation

January 31, 2013

Lat week wrapped out a successful 2013 Automate Show at McCormick Place, Chicago. Automation industry leaders gathered not only to show off their latest and most advanced tech, but also to talk about how automation is beneficial for companies of all sizes and how — for some of them — automation has saved their businesses.

Robot Makers Spread Global Gospel of Automation
by John Markoff

To buttress its claim that automation is not a job killer but instead a way for the United States to compete against increasingly advanced foreign competitors, the industry group reported findings on Tuesday that it said it would publish in February. The federation said the industry would directly and indirectly create from 1.9 million to 3.5 million jobs globally by 2020.

The federation held a news media event at which two chief executives of small American manufacturers described how they had been able to both increase employment and compete against foreign companies by relying heavily on automation and robots.

“Automation has allowed us to compete on a global basis. It has absolutely created jobs in southwest Michigan,” said Matt Tyler, chief executive of Vickers Engineering, an auto parts supplier. “Had it not been for automation, we would not have beat our Japanese competitor; we would not have beat our Chinese competitor; we would not have beat our Mexican competitor. It’s a fact.”

Also making the case was Drew Greenblatt, the widely quoted president and owner of Marlin Steel, a Baltimore manufacturer of steel products that has managed to expand and add jobs by deploying robots and other machines to increase worker productivity.

“In December, we won a job from a Chicago company that for over a decade has bought from China,” he said. “It’s a sheet-metal bracket; 160,000 sheet-metal brackets, year in, year out. They were made in China, now they’re made in Baltimore, using steel from a plant in Indiana and the robot was made in Connecticut.”

Read the full story at the New York Times. Did you attend the Automate Show? What were your favorite take-aways?


Automation Industry Association Criticizes 60 Minutes Segment ‘March of the Machines’

January 15, 2013

Following the 60 Minutes report “March of the Machines” on January 13, the Association for Advancing Automation (umbrella trade association for the RIA, AIA, and MCA) issued the following response–

The Association for Advancing Automation (A3), the global advocate for the automation industry, is disappointed in how 60 Minutes portrayed the industry in Sunday night’s “March of the Machines” segment.

“While the 60 Minutes depiction of how technological advances in automation and robotics are revolutionizing the workplace was spot on, their focus on how implementation of these automation technologies eliminates jobs could not be more wrong,” said Jeff Burnstein, President of A3, a trade group representing some 650 companies from 32 countries involved in robotics, vision, and motion control technologies. “We provided 60 Minutes producers several examples of innovative American companies who have used automation to become stronger global competitors, saving and creating more jobs while producing higher quality and lower cost products, rather than closing up shop or sending jobs overseas. They unfortunately chose not to include these companies in their segment. With respect to MIT Professors Brynjolfsson and McAfee who gave their viewpoint in the piece, they are missing the bigger picture.”

To see the real story in action, A3 is urging people to attend Automate 2013, the industry’s premier trade show which is held in Chicago, Illinois next week. (January 21-24, 2013; McCormick Place; www.automate2013.com) With over 8,000 attendees from around the world, Automate showcases the full spectrum of automation technologies and solutions that are being utilized in many different industries. For free admission to the show, register atwww.automate2013.com. Several Automate speakers will address how robots are saving and creating jobs.

“To paint advances in technology as just taking jobs is very one-sided,” stated Dr. Henrik Christensen, KUKA Chair of Robotics & Director of Robotics, Georgia Institute of Technology. “Studies have shown that 1.3 better, higher paying jobs are created in associated areas for every one job that may be insourced. In fact, the larger issue is companies are having trouble finding qualified employees to fill these high tech job openings. We instead should focus on how best to educate our workforce in the United States so that we can remain the leader in automation technologies.” Dr. Christensen will be the keynote speaker at Automate 2013 on Monday, January 21, 2013 at 8:45 am. He will be speaking on how robotics impact economic growth. The keynote is free for registrants.

Another highlight at Automate is a conference session led by company executives who will share their success with using automation technologies. (January 22, 2013; 10:00 am – 12:00 pm) The session will feature Drew Greenblatt, President & Owner of Marlin Steel and Matt Tyler, President & CEO of Vickers Engineering, who will share how they successfully implemented automation technologies instead of going out of business or sending manufacturing overseas. Today they are thriving businesses and have increased hiring with better, higher paying jobs. Later, both Greenblatt and Tyler will participate in the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) CEO Round Table Discussion on ‘How Robots Create Jobs.’ (January 22, 2013; 12:00 noon – 1:30 pm) The results of a recent study conducted by the IFR on the impact of industrial robots on employment will also be discussed.

“Automation creates jobs in the United States,” said Greenblatt. “Marlin Steel is hiring people because our robots make us more productive, so we are price competitive with China. Our quality is consistent and superior, and we ship much faster. Our mechanical engineers can design material handling baskets more creatively since we can make more precise parts. Our employees have gone 1,492 days without a safety incident because robots can do the more difficult jobs while our employees can focus on growing the business. American manufacturing’s embrace of robotics will ensure a new manufacturing renaissance in this country.”

“Roughly 90% of our automated cells are producing parts that were previously made off shore while the other 10% were also globally competitive, strictly due to automation,” said Tyler. “Automation has not only allowed us to bring more jobs back to the United States due to our ‘new’ cost structure, but our profit margin has increased. This ultimately allows us to fund additional growth, which in turn creates more stateside jobs.”

For information on how to obtain press credentials for Automate, please contact Bob Doyle at (734) 994-6088 or bdoyle@A3automate.org.

A3 is the umbrella group for Robotic Industries Association (RIA), AIA – Advancing Vision + Imaging, and Motion Control Association (MCA). RIA, AIA, and MCA combined represent some 650 automation manufacturers, component suppliers, system integrators, end users, research groups and consulting firms from throughout the world that drive automation forward. For information on RIA, visit Robotics Online at www.robotics.org. For information on AIA, visit Vision Online at www.visiononline.org. For information on MCA, visit Motion Control Online atwww.motioncontrolonline.org.

Read the press release on Robotics Online here.


The Automate Show Opens Soon — Get Your Free Show Pass Today!

January 2, 2013

We are just weeks away from the opening of the 2013 Automate Show in Chicago! If you’re considering automation to improve and grow your company this year, come to Automate to see live demos, talk with industry professionals, and find the solution that’s perfect for you! Read the press release below for more information or register for your free show pass here.

(Ann Arbor, Michigan) Conference registration is now open for Automate 2013, North America’s leading automation event that takes place January 21-24 at McCormick Place in Chicago.

“The 2013 Conference is the strongest we’ve ever put together,” says Jeff Burnstein, President of the Association for Advancing Automation, the main organizer of Automate 2013.

“We’re gearing many sessions to small and medium sized companies who are new users or considering using robotics, vision, motion control, and other automation technologies,” Burnstein asserts. One of the featured sessions highlights small company executives who have successfully automated in order to become stronger global competitors. Speakers include Drew Greenblatt, President, Marlin Steel, Torben Christensen, President, Wiscon Products and Matt Tyler, President & CEO, Vickers Engineering.

“I think companies considering automating will find this session fascinating because it will provide real-world examples of companies who would have had to either go out of business or send manufacturing offshore but instead succeeded by automating,” Burnstein said.

Other key topics covered in the conference include the fundamentals of robotics and the fundamentals of vision, new developments in industrial robot safety, new motor and drive technologies, robotics system integration, motion control technology for increasing throughput, and practical applications using vision guided robots.

More than 75 industry experts from around the world will give presentations at the five-day conference (ending January 25). Keynote speakers include Steve Forbes, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of Forbes Media and Henrik Christensen, Director of Robotics at Georgia Institute of Technology.

Professionals in the vision industry can take special classes that are required to earn the highly-coveted Certified Vision Professional (CVP) designation. The CVP is offered at both the Basic and Advanced Levels, with testing also offered at Automate 2013.

The Automate conference is accompanied by a four-day trade show featuring exhibits from some 150 leading automation companies. It offers a broad-range of automation solutions for packaging, welding, assembly, material removal, inspection, painting & coating, and other leading applications.

Burnstein said the front of the show is dedicated to exhibits from system integrators, the ideal starting point for users just beginning to investigate automation or those looking for new ideas. “The integrators are the ones who put successful solutions together, so they are extremely important to the user community,” he noted.

Another show-floor highlight will be Expert Huddles, small group discussions on key topics of interest to users. “These huddles will feature industry experts leading the discussion – among the topics will be return on investment, the best first tasks for automation, and how to select a system integrator. We expect to have more than 75 huddles throughout the show and all of them are free to show and conference attendees.”

Trade show attendance is free (16 and over required). Fees are required for the Automate 2013 conference. Full details can be found at www.automate2013.com. Automate 2013 is collocated with ProMat (sponsored by the Material Handling Industry of America). ProMat is North America’s premier material handling and logistics show. “Having both of these shows together gives attendees a chance to explore the state of the art in automation solutions as well as seeing what’s coming next for both the automation and material handling industries,” Burnstein noted.

About the Organizer
Automate is organized by the Association for Advancing Automation, the not-for-profit umbrella corporation of the Robotic Industries Association (RIA), AIA – Advancing Vision + Imaging, and the Motion Control Association (MCA). Together these associations represent nearly 700 member companies from 32 nations. Members include suppliers, system integrators, end users, universities, consulting firms and others involved in automation.

For more information on RIA, visit www.robotics.org. For AIA, visit www.visiononline.org. For MCA, visitwww.motioncontrolonline.org. Automate show and conference information can be found at www.automate2013.com. To reach Association Headquarters, call 734/994-6088.


Automation Infographic Explains Reshoring

October 4, 2012

RIA member KUKA Robotics created an infographic to explain how automation and robotics will help bring jobs back to America. Pretty neat!

[Click on infographic twice to see a bigger version.]


Women a Growing Demographic in Manufacturing

September 10, 2012

Despite great advances made in the workplace for equal pay and equal opportunities despite gender, there are still places where breaking into the boys’ club can be difficult. You don’t typically find women on the factory floor — but perhaps that’s about to change. CNN recently published an article about how developing automation technology and the growing manufacturing education system combine to make a career in manufacturing more accessible to women.

Manufacturing: Not just a man’s job
By Parija Kavilanz

Tom and Diana Peters — the husband-wife team that runs Symbol Job Training — are on a mission of their own. They want to enroll more women students in their school.

“The stereotype is that factory jobs require a lot of heavy lifting,” said Diana. “It’s the complete opposite. So much of manufacturing today is high-tech and computerized. Women can do these jobs and be very successful.”

The Peters’ trade school was formerly a family-run tool-and-die shop before Diana, a company executive, bought it and transformed it into a manufacturing trade school in 2005.

“We saw the need to establish a vocational school because of a skilled labor shortage in the area,” she said.

Enrollment at Symbol, which specializes in teaching computer-aided machining, known as CNC, has since quadrupled to 140 students a year. The school recently moved to a larger facility.

Symbol currently has about a dozen female students, a level that Tom calls a “spike” from years past when the school had none.

Read the full article at CNNmoney. What sort of challenges have you seen for women in manufacturing and automation? How have you seen them being addressed?