A recent blog post in The Wall Street Journal, titled “Manufacturing Robots Have an Image Problem,” described a survey that Rockwell Automation, a Milwaukee maker of factory automation equipment, funded for an industry group called the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition. It was formed last fall to encourage support for more advanced factory technology.
As John Bernaden, a Rockwell spokesman and vice-chairman of the coalition, recounted, the group expected some anxiety about robotics and their impact on jobs based on focus groups they held prior to conducting the national survey. Still, they were surprised by the level of negativity about robotic advances in manufacturing.
Two-thirds of more than 1,000 people surveyed said that automation made no difference or hurt the economy. Even higher-income respondents, who weren’t expected to be as threatened by automation, seemed to feel that way: One-third of people surveyed with incomes over $100,000 had a negative view as did one-quarter of college graduates. ORC International of Princeton, N.J. polled 1,009 adults. Continue reading
Roughly 700,000 to 1 million new jobs will be created worldwide in the next five
years, according to a report on the link between job creation and automation from the International Federation of Robotics. It was published in PACE (Process and Control Engineering), the journal of the Australia-based Institute of Instrumentation Control and Automation (IICA). The analysis by Metra Martech, a London-based market research firm, estimated direct employment at 2 million to 3 million jobs, which equates to 2 or 3 jobs per robot with roughly 1 million industrial robots in operation worldwide. It estimated indirect employment at twice that number.
“The model company is no longer a large entity such as GM, Chrysler, or Ford but small and medium sized enterprises . The need in such an economy is far more dependent on higher degrees of adaptation, ease of use, and other factors that enable small runs of made-to-order products,” the report said. “Robotics technology has historically been defined by the automotive sector and driven by price and the need to automate specific tasks particular to large volume manufacturing. The new economy is much less focused on mass manufacturing, however, and more concentrated on producing customized products.”
The PACE article, which described the findings to an international audience, mentioned the successes at Marlin Steel, which has invested more than $3 million in automation in recent years at the same time it has added employees and set revenue records. This was Marlin Steel President Drew Greenblatt in the article describing the company’s trajectory from the late 1990s when its workers earned $6 an hour and shaped steel wire by hand at the rate of 300 bends an hour.
The bias in CBS’ “60 Minutes” segment on robots Sunday night was evident from the opening illustration of robot fingers shredding a “HELP WANTED” sign, in case you wondered if there were two sides. Steve Kroft’s piece portrayed the false notion that without automation, all those robots performing tedious tasks around the clock would be replaced by American workers. As the piece noted, the robots are more apt to threaten the low-wage, repetitive-type jobs that built China into an industrial power. The choice for the future of American manufacturing isn’t no robots = more jobs. It’s more like more robots = more opportunities to win orders which will create more USA jobs. The brighter future involves embracing automation with workers given opportunities to operate and interface with robots. Continue reading
This being the night of the national college football championship, we’re reminded of the “Play Like a Champion Today” sign in the tunnel that Notre Dame players tap before they enter their home field. Outside the door to the factory floor at Marlin Steel in Baltimore, there’s also a motivational sign: ON THE JOB, SAFETY BEGINS HERE — THIS PLANT HAS WORKED 1,492 DAYS (as of 1/6/13) WITHOUT A LOST TIME ACCIDENT. ACCIDENTS ARE AVOIDABLE
The count “up” — now evoking Columbus’ grand voyage — recently eclipsed the four-year mark without an accident. The sign gets updated weekly.
The emphasis on “Playing like a champion, but safely” is a vital part of the culture at Marlin Steel. So much so that we’ve informed representatives from the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health (MOSH) Division that we’re interested in pursuing the rigorous Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP), a safety inspection standard at the highest level. Only a handful of companies in Maryland have achieved it. Continue reading