With all of the technological advances happening around the world, many wonder if robots and automation will someday replace manufacturing jobs.
After all, the World Economic Forum (WEF) predicts that by 2022, 42% of the time spent on manufacturing tasks will be automated by robots.
While there will be some definite displacement, we also know that there will always be need for some human oversight. So how much will automation impact the manufacturing industry exactly?
In this article, we’ll go over what manufacturing automation is and then detail its benefits, current state, and future.
Let’s get started.
What is Manufacturing Automation?
Manufacturing automation is using robotic equipment to automate production systems and processes. Robotic integration is meant to increase efficiency by boosting productivity and cutting production costs.
There are three main types of manufacturing automation:
- Fixed automation, aka hard automation, is used for accelerating the production of a single product. It typically has a high barrier to entry because it requires a lot of new machinery. It’s also hard to switch products or production styles once the fixed automation is put in place. Some examples of fixed automation include custom assembly lines and conveyor belt systems.
- Programmable automation gets its name from relying on a program for its design, implementation, and execution. Because it’s software-based, it adapts easily to different products and sequences. Programmable automation is good for batch production through industrial robots or programmable logic controllers, for example.
- Flexible automation is similar to programmable automation, except that it can create different types of products at the same time. It uses central computer system controls and can be found in both assembly lines and robotics.
Benefits of Manufacturing Automation
No matter the type, manufacturing automation offers several benefits to modern businesses:
For one, there are lower operating costs involved. When you automate production, you can hire fewer workers, and the workers you do hire can be put to work on more important tasks. The upfront investment for the machinery and technology can be a lot, but it will save you money in the long run.
Automation also improves worker safety. The fewer workers you have on-site, the less risk there is of injuries occurring. Plus, robots can take over the tasks that are the most dangerous.
As already mentioned, manufacturing automation also increases productivity. After all, machines can work 24/7 without supervision and without disruption. They don’t require breaks to rest like humans do.
Manufacturing automation also helps create higher-quality products. Since there is no opportunity for human error, you’ll have fewer defects and you can maintain a more consistent level of quality throughout.
The State of Manufacturing Automation
Without a doubt, manufacturing automation is set to grow.
Since 2000, about 1.7 million manufacturing jobs have been lost to robots. And this shift has only been exasperated by the COVID-19 pandemic. More and more companies are being forced to rely less on workers because they are more prone to illness and government lockdowns.
Now there are over 2.7 million robots working in factories across the globe. And this number will only continue to increase.
The Future of Manufacturing Automation
Luckily, we know that manufacturing automation will also create new jobs. In fact, the rate of new job growth should roughly match the rate of jobs lost. And this holds true for every major economic shift in history. The agricultural, industrial, and digital revolution have all created at least as many new jobs as they eliminated.
That said, it’s clear that manufacturing factories will be run by only a handful of people in the future, while robots do most of the manual work. As a result, the labor market will need to learn to adapt by learning new skills.
If you have a manufacturing job, now is the time to start planning ahead. Find ways to upskill and learn to oversee robotic machinery so you don’t get replaced by it. Remember, fortune favors the bold.