Modern manufacturing isn't based on human labor, it's based on the robot. Still, most people cannot grasp the breadth of automation in factories. We still picture plants full of human workers toiling to make our cars and furniture, just as we imagine our meat comes from animals in a barn. The truth is much more awe-inspiring, perhaps even frightening. The factories of today have some human workers, but huge portions of assembly lines are 100% mechanized. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics expects automotive jobs to decline 18% by 2018 despite expected increases in production. Robots eliminate the need for more workers. Before you lament the loss of jobs, take a moment and watch how robots earn their role every day in the workplace. Incredible!
You probably know that most cars are made with less than 24 hours worth of human labor. The rest is all done by automation. Machines building machines. It sounds simple, but you have to watch it to really understand what it means.
It goes way beyond cars, though. Pick an industry with a repetitive task, and you'll find a robot. Here are some stacking wood:
Sorting and packaging is almost completely mechanized:
And you can't discuss sorting and stacking without mentioning the Flexpicker. Look at this thing fly. No humans needed, just raw robotic speed and accuracy.
Even those who understand the scope of the robotic workforce may not understand its versatility. Here we see a FANUC machine with a huge array of embedded tools used for a complex assembly process.
Automation isn't a far off possibility any more than it's a disastrous end to human labor. It is a natural part of our industrial world, and without it we would be unable to support our modern lifestyle. As robots continue to step in and increase factory productivity, new and cheaper goods will become available. If we plan it right, that will mean we can spend more time being creative, relaxing, and enjoying the fruits of our mechanized labor. In order to realize that potential, we'll have to plan for the future, and that means accepting the present. If it helps, you can always imagine that factory robots are more human than they appear:
[photo credit: WikiCommons]