It bothers me that the main justification for replacing human labor with robots is the cost of human labor. At least, it used to bother me. For a 3 shift operation that runs 7 days a week there are typically 4 people employed. At a $40K/year cost per employee that’s $160K that can be saved by a client that replaces this function in their operation with a robot. If the robot installation costs $160K it only takes one year to break even.
But what about the 4 people in those jobs?
I had the opportunity recently to work with universities who are focusing on “workforce redevelopment”. Take those 4 displaced workers and put them through a 2 year program to train them to troubleshoot and maintain those robots. Or other automated equipment in manufacturing or logistics.
For the client who deploys robots to work 24/7 without breaks or shift changes, they become more competitive in a national and global world. We’ve all heard about lower labor rates in other countries that feed products into the US at lower price points. After the return on robot investment has been reached that manufacturer has a lower cost to manufacture and has a more sustainable operation. Repeat that across a plant or warehouse and more workers will be needed to handle the more technical or human functions robots can’t.
With the recession, more companies are looking to robotics for these opportunities and I’m starting to see the long term results. More jobs are being created and products can be manufactured and stored at a reduced cost. Now, hopefully, that reduced cost comes back to me as a consumer!
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