Since the end of the Great Recession, American businesses have been heavily investing in industrial robots. Robotic workers have been an important part of several traditional industrial manufacturing sectors for many years, but in recent years, they’re moving into new sectors, and in unprecedented numbers.
The number of robotic related patents are on the rise as well, as manufacturers find new ways to use these automated workers to achieve precision and dexterity that humans cannot manage.
Robots are getting new jobs
The rise of robotics happened primarily in the automotive industry. This trend started in Japan, but quickly spread to European and American car manufacturers. New tech, however, is changing what robots can do, and helping them adapt to new jobs. Modern robots have visual sensors, better movement and sound detection, and the ability to tell when a human has bumped into them and “give” in order to prevent injury.
These days, 25% of robots perform assembly tasks, while 21% are machining, and just 6.5% each are performing dangerous tasks or warehousing. 7% of food and consumer goods companies use robots, while 6% of life sciences, pharmaceutical, and biomedical companies use them. These figures are up from 3% and 2% a year ago.
For years, the assumption has been that robots will replace humans in the workforce, eliminating jobs. Modern research, however, is suggesting that instead of replacing jobs, robotic workforces create new, high-skill jobs. Manufacturers may need to implement training programs to help create the on-the-job skills needed to monitor robots, repair them, and create their operating systems and engineer the specific needs of a manufacturer.
Potentially lowered cost for new facility
As robots become more advanced, there is some evidence that setting up a new office in a new location could be less expensive than previously. Onboarding staff is the single most expensive one-time task most companies undertake in setting up a new facility, but robotics programming may mean that new robots can be purchased for a new facility and immediately begin working.
Low cost tech improvements
Some 40% of companies do not use any kind of advanced robotics, and they citing reasons like not seeing enough of a benefit, or being too expensive for regular use. As we regularly see processors, sensors, and analytic software dropping in cost while increasing in performance, that cost-balance may begin to shift for many companies.
When we casually discuss connected lives, we tend to focus on how high tech connections support individuals. But the Internet of Things will have a huge effect on cities and businesses as well. Robots can potentially report minute evidence of mechanical breakdowns long before human eyes would notice a timing error or mistake in placement. They could schedule their own maintenance cycles, or alert human workers about potential safety issues with plenty of time to fix them.
As businesses embrace intelligent line work, humans will be able to move into positions of responding to changes and alerts, another way that humans will continue to work alongside robots.
New options for customer interactions
Several companies, including Starbucks, have introduced apps that let customers order their drink on their phone, skip the line, and pick up their item at the counter. In many ways, this is similar to apps which allow customers to order delivery food, just differently applied.
For many customers, the experience of talking to the cashier and having small interactions can be a big part of why they choose Starbucks over other companies. But for other customers, who are in more of a rush, ordering on the go may make the difference between stopping for a coffee and not stopping at all. Automation may allow a retail business to capture more customers than they otherwise could.
Does your business lose time every week by sending thank you emails to every person who subscribes to your newsletter? Automation allows workers to design the email once, and then have it sent out whenever specific conditions are met. Whenever someone signs up for a newsletter, they can get a thank you and an introductory offer. A few days after their product should have arrived, a request can go out for a review. By automating these emails, businesses can improve consistency and follow through.
We often discuss automation in the business world as if it is the downfall of human industrialism. In fact, most studies have shown that while robots take over certain aspects of work with more dexterity than humans show, they also generate high-skills jobs that don’t necessarily require advanced schooling. And as we can see through marketing and app ordering, some options for automation improve customer response and increase the serviceable audience.
What effects do you think automation will have on the business world in 2017?