A Critical Time to Bring Manufacturing — and Jobs — Back to the US

August 20, 2012

We’ve been seeing a lot of great news about reshoring, sharing it here on our blog, on our Twitter account, and on our website. While this is great news, it’s an interesting time for this shift to happen. With the advances in robotics and other automation technology, as well as other factors, it’s become more cost-efficient to invest in domestic manufacturing. As factories all over the world are experiencing a technology upgrade, this also appears to be a critical time to move manufacturing back home. The New York Times explores what it means to move factories back home and equip them with cutting edge automation technology.

Skilled Work, Without the Worker
by John Markoff

The Obama administration says this technological shift presents a historic opportunity for the nation to stay competitive. “The only way we are going to maintain manufacturing in the U.S. is if we have higher productivity,” said Tom Kalil, deputy director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Government officials and industry executives argue that even if factories are automated, they still are a valuable source of jobs. If the United States does not compete for advanced manufacturing in industries like consumer electronics, it could lose product engineering and design as well. Moreover, robotics executives argue that even though blue-collar jobs will be lost, more efficient manufacturing will create skilled jobs in designing, operating and servicing the assembly lines, as well as significant numbers of other kinds of jobs in the communities where factories are.

And robot makers point out that their industry itself creates jobs. A report commissioned by the International Federation of Robotics last year found that 150,000 people are already employed by robotics manufacturers worldwide in engineering and assembly jobs.

But American and European dominance in the next generation of manufacturing is far from certain.

“What I see is that the Chinese are going to apply robots too,” said Frans van Houten, Philips’s chief executive. “The window of opportunity to bring manufacturing back is before that happens.”

Read the full article at The New York Times.

We at the Robotic Industries Association of course see this expansion in our industry as a good thing. We’ve seen member companies grow and expand, we’ve seen companies saved from closure by automation, and now we’re seeing the potential of reshoring, in part due to advances in automation technology.

But we like to keep an open discussion. What sort of answers do you have for the questions raised in the article?


Real Estate Managers Foresee Manufacturing Re-shoring

August 6, 2012

Previously we linked to an article from ASSEMBLY Magazine that held results of their annual State of the Profession survey. The report had many hopes of reshoring and growth in domestic manufacturing. Turns out that professionals in other industries have the same projections. IndustryWeek reports that a recent survey of corporate real estate managers found that over half of them expected strong reshoring efforts in the next few years.

Rebound in Domestic Manufacturing from Offshore Locations
by Adrienne Selko

In a survey conducted in conjunction with the Corporate Real Estate 2020 research, 51% of corporate real estate asset managers either agreed or strongly agreed that there would be a rebound in domestic manufacturing from offshore locations. This recovery will be driven both by companies bringing manufacturing plants and jobs back to the U.S. or choosing not to off-shore in the first place, according to the report.

“On-shoring in the U.S. will continue to gain steam due to changing global cost and supply chain dynamics,” said Dennis Donovan, principal with WDG Consulting. “The U.S. and its manufacturing base is more competitive than at anytime in a generation.”

The trend is already occurring as U.S. manufacturing jobs have rebounded from a 10-year low of 11,458,000 in January 2010 to a projected 11,962,000 ending June 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The 4.4% increase marks a gain of more than a half million new jobs.

Read the full article here at IndustryWeek. Have you seen or experienced companies pulling back to domestic manufacturing? What sort of expectations do you hold for reshoring in the next decade?

Bring the Jobs Home — and Train People to Fill Them

July 16, 2012

More good news for the manufacturing industry? ASSEMBLY Magazine recently concluded the studies for its17th annual State of the Profession survey, capturing current trends in the industry and making some projections about the future. At the top of the list of topics? Reshoring efforts — and the lack of skilled workers to fill jobs.

Reshoring Buoys Optimism
by Austin Weber

The 17th annual ASSEMBLY State of the Profession survey captured some of the recent uptick in reshoring activity. For instance, 19 percent of respondents claim that their company has brought jobs back to the states from overseas. And, 16 percent expect their companies to reshore assembly operations during the next 12 months.

A recent study conducted by the Boston Consulting Group Inc. (BCG) confirms this trend. According to BCG, more than a third of U.S.-based manufacturing executives at companies with sales greater than $1 billion are planning to bring back production to the United States from China or are considering it.

The top factors cited as driving future decisions on production locations are labor costs (57 percent), product quality (41 percent), ease of doing business (29 percent) and proximity to customers (28 percent). In addition, 92 percent of respondents believe that labor costs in China “will continue to escalate,” and 70 percent claim that “sourcing in China is more costly than it looks on paper.”

Check out the full article at ASSEMBLY’s website. The article goes on to discuss working conditions, job satisfaction, pay distribution, and green initiatives. What trends from ASSEMBLY’s survey do you see reflected in your own company and your sphere of business?

How Robots Create Jobs

April 9, 2012

by Adil Shafi , President, ADVENOVATION, Inc.

Originally posted 04/04/2012 on Robotics Online.

No army can stop an idea whose time has come ~ Victor Hugo

In 2011, the International Federation of Robotics commissioned a report on how robots create jobs. http://www.ifr.org/robots-create-jobs/. The findings report that, “One million industrial robots currently in operation have been directly responsible for the creation of close to three million jobs… A growth in robot use over the next five years will result in the creation of one million high quality jobs around the world.”

Further, the market research firm Metra Martech wrote, “In world terms three to five million jobs would not exist if automation and robotics had not been developed to enable cost effective production of millions of electronic products from Phones to PlayStations.” The report actually covers several markets in the automotive, electronics, food and beverage, plastics, chemicals and pharmaceutical industries and focuses on countries like Brazil, China, Germany, Japan, Republic of Korea and USA. The complete report is available at http://www.ifr.org/uploads/media/Metra_Martech_Study_on_robots_02.pdf.

It is sometimes said in the media that robots take jobs away. Actually the opposite is true. The companies that hire and thrive and have cars in their parking lots are the ones that have embraced automation and used robots to create financial efficiencies and created jobs. This fact has been marginalized in the past by such opinion makers as organized labor and “headline seeking” media. Fortunately, after the recent recession, both are now realizing that this myth is busted and are routinely embracing the long term benefits of robots.

So, how do robots create jobs? Before we review the math and dynamics of robot jobs, let’s look at a similar perception problem that occurred one hundred years ago.

A One Hundred Year Old Example and Similar Lessons

How Robots Create JobsConsider the horse driven cart business before the advent of cars (or the “iron horse” as a car was often called). In those days there were many jobs that revolved around horses: their breeding, feeding, grooming and related peripherals: saddles, stirrups, stables, etc. When the “iron horse” came about, these jobs were threatened. Inevitably those linked to the horse related professions resisted the advent of cars and cried foul about the ethics, morality or appropriateness of an iron horse in society. But, as Victor Hugo said, “no army can stop an idea whose time has come”.

People saw the benefits of cars: the comfort of the ride, the range of travel and the speed. The benefits over horses were irrefutable. It was not obvious at first but cars needed roads and that need created jobs. The manufacture of cars created jobs. And no one epitomized the benefits of mass manufacturing to create jobs and enhance the betterment of the masses than Henry Ford.

How Robots Create Jobs It is true that there was a disruption to the status quo and a transition; some of which was planned by people and some of which was not. But cars were here to stay and they have revolutionized jobs, society and our standards and ways of living for the past one hundred years.

In a similar way, robots or “iron workers” have created a similar dynamic in recent decades. It is true that many “manual hands work” related jobs were threatened by the efficiencies of robots. Robots have irrefutable benefits like How Robots Create Jobstheir incessant efficiency, consistency, and relentless work ethic. Once again, “no army can stop an idea whose time has come”.

The manufacture of robots has created jobs. And a transition is underway, whether people or businesses have planned for it or not. Those that have not planned for it have been negatively affected by the high cost of labor and thereby loss of business competitiveness. Those that have planned for the transition have benefited and prospered from the transition.

As Charles Darwin noted, it is not the strongest or the largest of the species (companies in this case) that have survived the best; many hitherto large and powerful companies have filed for bankruptcy protection, but instead the ones most receptive and adaptive to change that have benefited the most. This need to adapt or change quickly via information or a “digital nervous system” was underscored by Bill Gates in his book “Business at the Speed of Thought”.

The Job Cost Numbers

How Robots Create JobsLet’s look at the financial math behind the manual worker and the iron worker (industrial robot). In countries of high cost labor e.g., the United States of America, Western Europe and Japan, the hourly cost of manual labor can be about $20 per hour; it is higher in Europe but the example holds.

In BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) countries of low cost labor, the hourly cost of manual labor can be as low as $1 per hour. This “financial advantage” has driven many companies to move manufacturing to countries of low cost labor. It requires significant financial strength and infrastructure and commitment to do so.

Such transitions require significant spans of time zones, language barriers, cultural adjustments, shipping and receiving logistics, customs, insurance, quality management, business monitoring and cash flow adjustments. For example a product made with $1 per hour labor requires training, shipping of materials, quality management, communication from halfway around the world, etc. and then when the product is ready, it may have to be paid FOB at the port of shipping in the Pacific Rim, ocean insurance and freight, customs clearance in Los Angeles, a delay to process the product, and then the expenditure of expensive fuel and gas to transport the product to its final point of distribution and sale.

All this magnifies that $1 per hour labor cost to as much as $10 per hour and calculators to estimate these “stack up of costs” are available on the internet e.g., at www.saveyourfactory.com. Jobs created in this manner are completely transitioned from countries of high cost labor to countries of low cost labor.

How Robots Create Jobs

Now enter robots, machine vision and automation. This too requires an investment like the overseas low cost labor option. The first one or two years require a ROI or Return in Investment period during which the cost of robots, machine vision and automation are recouped against the savings achieved from manual labor. But from then on, the cost of manufacture per hour is lower than the cost of producing in countries of low cost labor!!! This fact has not been well known in the past and it is the key to how robots create jobs and save businesses in countries of high cost labor.

Like the investment in the iron horse, the investment in the iron worker makes businesses stronger and allows them to compete against any other company and against any labor cost model in the world. Moreover, there are additional human quality of life benefits.

Companies that embrace this change and adapt to it end up seeing that their businesses can thrive in regions of high cost labor. They can preserve their local communities, pay taxes, preserve schools, churches, support businesses and family relationships without job disruptions, family disruptions or relocation. And after the Great Recession, this dynamic is enabling a host of manufacturing companies to regain their strength and to forge ahead with new competitiveness, a new relevance and a renewed strength. Even the BRIC countries are embracing robots for reasons of benefit that transcend low cost labor.

A Transition, a Plan, a Journey

How Robots Create Jobs This model of automation and renewed strength requires a proactive adaptation to change. A 100 employee company that has worked manually for 30 years will find itself with a need to transition, a need to plan and a need to journey to a better prosperity.

Inevitably, some manual work will transition to robots. Inevitably, the manual workers will require retraining and a new job focus in the same company.

There are many government programs available to provide the necessary training and to provide the necessary financing to accomplish the transition plan. This results in a corporate benefit as well as an employee benefit. It requires a commitment to learn these dynamics and opportunities and then to make a plan to forge ahead. Many companies that do so find themselves stronger against global competition and find that they can pay their former manual workers more money per hour in their newly invigorated newly automated and highly competitive company.

Industrial Robots After The Recession

The proof is in the market reports. All indications are that after the Great Recession, robot, machine vision and automation sales are growing at a pace far faster and higher than the pace of general economic recovery. Robot sales have set records in the last two years and the change has been embraced in droves.

The resistance to deploy robots is hardly seen any more amongst unions and even the media is touting the benefits of robots now; most notably in a recent Forbes magazine article entitled “Buy a Robot and Save America”. This article was based on a presentation made by Ron Potter, presently Director of Robotics Technology at Factory Automation Systems in Atlanta Georgia entitled, “The Business Case for Robots: How the US Can Compete and Win in Global Manufacturing”. Potter has been involved with robotics innovation for more than 40 years and is a 1995 winner of the highest award in industrial robotics, the Joseph F. Engelberger Award.

How Robots Create JobsDifferent Kinds of Labor Unions

It is also true that after the Great Recession, labor unions have adapted and formed new “win win” models for the future. The labor wage structures tend to be more tiered now based on ability and experience and thus more biased towards meritocracy. The deals between car companies and unions are more mutualistic as evidenced in successful unions in post Second World War Japan (read David Halberstam’s “The Reckoning”) or the days of J Paul Getty as described in his famous book “How to be Rich.

Industrial Robot Job Growth

So now, much like the manufacture of the iron horse (cars), the manufacture of the iron worker (robots) is accelerating.

Major robot companies and their suppliers are reporting corporate expansions and job creation. The demand for skilled robot technicians, engineers and related jobs has skyrocketed and our educational institutions are investing heavily in robot programs. The Robotic Industries Association (RIA) is consistently reporting growth in membership, member revenue, member jobs and related prosperity.

This is a much welcome trend for those who have journeyed in the last two decades through skepticism and even more importantly the maturing of technology and reduction of automation pricing to unleash the forces of mass adoption. It is refreshing to see the economic benefits after the recession. It is even more refreshing to see that fears of the success of robot and vision projects have diminished and that there is renewed confidence in the success of these projects in End User communities, in automation communities and in component supplier communities.

Moreover, the RIA has announced and implemented industry measures to provide objective certification to help raise the level of competency of member companies through the recent RIA Certified Robot Integrator Program and the AIA Certified Vision Professional (CVP) Program.

The Pervasive Physical Relevance of Service Robots
How Robots Create Jobs
As if growth in the industrial robot job market is not enough good news, another phenomenon in job growth is unfolding before our eyes. The service robot has arrived and it is offering all kinds of benefit to humans outside factories just like the industrial robot has provided benefit inside factories. Jobs in the fields of service robotics are rapidly being created by small startups, large companies, government agencies and many universities and their commercialization arms.

The International Federation of Robotics projects that 85% of all robots will be service robots by 2018; a mere six years away. Once again, like iron horses in the past, and iron workers in the present, we should pay heed to the future and take lesson from Hugo’s saying: “No army can prevent an idea whose time has come”.

Service robots promise to do for the physical benefit of humans what computers have done for the mental benefit of humans. Computers have not taken over our brains, but they have vastly improved our ability to tap into information and to access it as needed in seconds. In a similar way, service robots are paving the way to physical benefits at home, on the road and at work in profound and pervasive ways.

Service robots are creating new solutions of convenience and efficiency and physical strength, and entirely new types of jobs in the air, on land, on water and under water. There are dozens of new markets, job fields and areas of activity in the field of service robots. They were explained in an RIA featured article in 2011 entitled: Service Robots and their Rapid Rise in Multiple Markets.

Where to Start with Robotics

If you are a student and wish to embark on a career in robotics, the Lego and FIRST robot competitions offer an excellent way to begin. You may focus on the mechanical, electrical, software, interface or application areas of robotics; or any combination thereof. Many universities and technical colleges are starting or growing their existing programs in robotics which are theoretical as well as practical and that emphasize hands on learning and team work.
How Robots Create Jobs
In January 2012, RIA launched the new RhoBotaPhi blog site to help students, faculty and job seekers plan for career opportunities in robotics. The site is designed to assist students and educators connect with companies in the robotics industry. Extensive resources that every robotics student will need are made available. For more information, visit the RhoBotaPhi website at: www.rhobotaphi.com.

If you are an industry professional, you may wish to learn from free webinars that the RIA offers via its Market Trends Webinar Series. If you are an industrial worker and wish to learn how to implement robotics in your company, visit the following association websites: RIA’s Robotics Online, AIA’s Vision Online and MCA’s Motion Control Online.

National Robotics Week
How Robots Create Jobs
April 7 – 15 marks the celebration of National Robotics Week; the RIA will be hosting two free webinars: Career Opportunities in Robotics (4/10/12) and Fundamentals of Robotics: Factory Solutions (4/12/12). Registration is required.

Contribution Acknowledgements

Contact Information

Adil Shafi is President of ADVENOVATION, Inc., specializing in software solutions and innovation in the field of Vision Guided Robotics (contact adil@advenovation.com or visit www.advenovation.com).

Read the original posting here.

Jobs and Robots – Free RIA Webinars during National Robotics Week

March 30, 2012

National Robotics Week

Jobs and robotics are webinar topics addressed by Robotic Industries Association during National Robotics Week, April 7-15, 2012. Career Opportunities in Robotics is on April 10 and Fundamentals of Robotics is April 12 – both are free and start at Noon Eastern Daylight Savings Time. Registration details can be found at www.robotics.org/NationalRoboticsWeek.

Webinar panelists are RIA members with practical experience in the robotics industry. Speakers for the careers webinar are Diane Haig from Applied Manufacturing Technologies, Roberta Zald from IPR Robotics and Jim Devaprasad from Lake Superior State University. Adil Shafi, President of Advenovation, is the presenter for robotics fundamentals.

“National Robotics Week began in 2010 and is a great example of the renewed focus on manufacturing in North America,” said Jeff Burnstein, President, Robotic Industries Association. “RIA members are looking for qualified workers so this is a great opportunity to hear about the exciting and fulfilling work in robotics and advanced manufacturing.”

Findings from a 2011 report on how robots create jobs indicate, “One million industrial robots currently in operation have been directly responsible for the creation of close to three million jobs… A growth in robot use over the next five years will result in the creation of one million high quality jobs around the world.” (Source: International Federation of Robotics.

Career Opportunities in RoboticsCareer Opportunities in Robotics (April 10) is a one-hour webinar that examines career options in cutting-edge applications in industry and beyond. Engineers, faculty and others interested in engineering career development will discover exciting robotic opportunities in education and research, industry, simulation and emerging applications presented during this webinar.

Fundamentals of Industrial Robotics: Factory SolutionsFundamentals of Robotics – Factory Solutions (April 12) is an hour-long webinar that explains different kinds of robots, their design and component makeup, basic safety considerations and integration methodologies.

Attendees are invited to join the webinars online during National Robotics Week. The Great Plains Robotics Alliance along with the Wichita Area Technical College has incorporated the Fundamentals of Robotics webinar into an event they are hosting at their facility (National Center for Aviation Training) and will show the webinar live in their presentation auditorium.

About Robotic Industries Association

Founded in 1974, RIA’s member organizations include leading robot manufacturers, component suppliers, system integrators, end users, community colleges & universities, research groups, and consulting firms. RIA is best-known for developing the ANSI/RIA National Robot Safety Standard, collecting quarterly statistics on the North American robotics market, sponsoring the biennial Automate show and conference, hosting the annual Robotics Industry Forum, and producing Robotics Online, the world’s leading resource for robotics information.

RIA is part of the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), formerly known as the Automation Technologies Council. Other associations under the A3 umbrella are AIA, an association for vision & imaging companies, and the Motion Control Association (MCA).

For more information on RIA, visit Robotics Online or contact RIA Headquarters at 734/994-6088.

About National Robotics Week

National Robotics Week recognizes robotics technology as a pillar of 21st century American innovation, highlights its growing importance in a wide variety of application areas, and emphasizes its ability to inspire technology education. Robotics is positioned to fuel a broad array of next-generation products and applications in fields as diverse as manufacturing, health-care, national defense and security, agriculture and transportation. At the same time, robotics is proving to be uniquely adept at enabling students of all ages to learn important science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) concepts and at inspiring them to pursue careers in STEM-related fields. During National Robotics Week, a week-long series of events and activities is aimed at increasing public awareness of the growing importance of “robo-technology” and the tremendous social and cultural impact that it will have on the future of the United States.

National Robotics Week is a product of a 2009 effort by leading universities and companies to create a “national road-map” for robotics technology, which was initially unveiled at a May 2009 briefing by academic and industry leaders to the Congressional Caucus on Robotics. On March 9, 2010, the U.S. House of Representatives passed resolution H.Res. 1055, officially designating the second full week in April as National Robotics Week. This resolution was submitted by U.S. Representative Mike Doyle (PA-14), co-chair of the Caucus, and other members.

Initiated in 2010, the inaugural National Robotics Week included 50 affiliated events around the country. National Robotics Week 2011 built on that success to include more than 100 events in 22 states, District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. We expect National Robotics Week 2012 to be even bigger with even more events.

Read the original press release on Robotics Online.

Robotics Education on the Rise

March 2, 2012

Forward-thinking students who are interested in the promising career of robotics get to pick from a growing number of educational choices. Yaskawa America and its Motoman Robotics division, an RIA member, has teamed up with a community college in Pennsylvania to provide new opportunities for robotics education.

Tom Lepp, HACC’s mechatronics instructor for Franklin County, will lead a new partnership with robotics manufacturer Yaskawa America, Inc. Yaskawa is based in Miamisburg, Ohio. Its Motoman Robotics Division has created a Merit Training Program that the company hopes to pair with colleges and university in every state.

The partnership also allows for workforce training and provides industry certification.

“So many industries are heavily into robotics these days,” Lepp said. “Even the medical industry is — at Chambersburg Hospital they have a GE da Vinci system. The need for technicians, programmers and maintenance folk is increasing daily,” Lepp said. “It’s an excellent skill set to provide for the robotics program.”

We’re proud of our members who partner with academic institutions for an investment that will benefit everyone in the future.

To read the full article by Brian Hall on Public Opinion, click here.

RIA Honors Educator Sponsors

February 17, 2012

The Robotic Industries Association, the industry’s trade group, announced today that it is honoring fourteen member companies for their sponsorship of 23 institutions with an Educator/Researcher membership in RIA. Ten companies (ABB Inc.; Applied Manufacturing Technologies; ATI Industrial Automation; FANUC Robotics America Corporation; KUKA Robotics Corporation; Motoman Robotics division of Yaskawa America, Inc.; PaR Systems, Inc.; SAS Automation, LLC; SCHUNK Inc. and Stäubli Robotics) were recently joined by Dane Systems, LLC.; IPR Robotics, LLC; JR Automation Technologies LLC and KEBA Corporation to complete the listing.

RIA President, Jeff Burnstein, said, “We have reached a new high-water mark for company sponsor participation. We want to acknowledge the outstanding leadership that these RIA member companies have demonstrated.  Not only are they assisting in the development of some of our nation’s finest future automation engineers, technicians and personnel, but they are strengthening the institutions themselves through their participation.”

Catherine Morris, Senior Account Manager at ATI Industrial Automation, Apex, North Carolina and Chair of Robotic Industries Association, whose company is one of the educator sponsors agreed, “Participating companies have the opportunity to make inroads into the classrooms of the institutions they sponsor through presentations made directly to students and joint research projects, while the schools enjoy a pipeline to industry experts and support.”

Morris pointed to other benefits, “The sponsoring companies also obtain the advantage of having connections for job recruiting and for building brand awareness with the students.  It’s really a wonderful ‘win-win’ relationship for both sponsoring RIA member companies and for the educational institutions being sponsored.”

Burstein indicated, “The current sponsors are recognized on the association’s Robotics Online website through a special page designated for schools and their corporate sponsors.  And now, throughout the website’s pages, we are highlighting each company sponsor with a new RIA Educator Member Sponsor button ad. As additional member companies become sponsors, they will be inserted into the ad as well.

A complete list of all the sponsored institutions, benefits of membership sponsorship to both company and institution and additional details can be found on the association’s “Schools & Corporate Sponsors” website page on Robotics Online.

About RIA

Founded in 1974, RIA’s 265 member organizations include leading robot manufacturers, component suppliers, system integrators, end users, community colleges & universities, research groups, and consulting firms.  RIA is best-known for developing the ANSI/RIA National Robot Safety Standard, collecting quarterly statistics on the North American robotics market, sponsoring the biennial Automate show and conference, hosting the annual Robotics Industry Forum, and producing Robotics Online, the world’s leading resource for robotics information.

RIA is part of the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), formerly known as the Automation Technologies Council.  Other associations under the A3 umbrella are AIA, an association for vision & imaging companies, and the Motion Control Association (MCA).

For more information on RIA, visit Robotics Online or contact RIA Headquarters at 734/994-6088.