Jul 17th 2017

The Automation Revolution Is Here

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Automation is becoming more a part of our daily lives. We bark orders at Alexa or Siri, deposit our checks at ATMs and order flowers via a bot from 1-800-Flowers.com. But the change isn’t just occurring on the consumer side.

Industries ranging from automotive to manufacturing to fast food are automating to various degrees. In some cases, “cobots” are empowering existing workers by removing manual labor and letting them focus on the more creative and high-touch aspects of the job.

No one knows how this change is likely to affect the future job market. One possibility is that automation will eliminate manual labor and allow human workers to be more creative. It’s also likely that the new technology will create jobs that we can’t imagine today. For instance, titles like “chief listening officer” and “social media manager” didn’t exist 15 years ago. Who knows what jobs will be available in 2032?

Here’s how automation is already occurring at various industries:

Automobiles: No industry uses more robots than the auto industry. According to the International Federation of Robotics (IFRA), the industry uses close to 100,000 robots. Between 2010 and 2015, robot sales to the auto industry rose 20 percent on average per year. There’s little mystery why: A human welder in a U.S. factory costs $25 an hour, including benefits, according to a 2015 Boston Consulting Group study. Comparatively, a robot costs $8 per hour over a five-year period, including installation, maintenance and operating costs. By 2030, that figure could drop to $2, according to the study.

Electronics: Computers create robots, of course, but now robots are creating computers as well. The IFRA reports that this segment’s spend on robotics spiked 41 percent in 2015 to 64,600 units. That’s more than double the amount in 2010.

Manufacturing: There are many ways that automated factories are more efficient. Internet-connected factories can gauge when maintenance is needed and avoid downtime. Sensors can also provide real-time insights and track data that let manufacturers use resources more efficiently. For instance, a sensor could figure out which parts of the process are using the most energy and transfer or limit that energy use.

Food: The food industry has used robots for manual labor like lifting and packing. However, they have recently begun moving to the production line. Robots are outfitted with food-compatible lubricants and stainless steel parts to handle food in very cold environments where humans couldn’t work. Robots have also recently begun preparing food as well. In March 2017, CaliBurger in California introduced Flippy, a burger-flipping bot.

In addition, robotic process automation is hitting industries like insurance, accounting and finance. The long-term implications of such changes are that jobs that involve manual processing — mental or physical — have a good chance of being automated. Those preparing for the workforce of tomorrow would be wise to focus on doing what machines can’t do — like think creatively, synthesize ideas and perform “high-touch” jobs like nursing, physical therapy and sales. Of course, someone will also need to create and keep track of these machines, as well. At the moment, nobody really knows how all of this will evolve, not even Alexa.

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