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Chinese manufacturing always seems to dominate conversations about modern manufacturing. In truth, more than 100 million workers are employed by Chinese manufacturing, reports Carl Pettit of The Stack. Outsourcing of jobs, lower manufacturing costs and continued upheaval in the U.S. are part of the conversation, but robots in manufacturing are important too. While many argue against robotics, robots have become an integral part of efficient, effective manufacturing, and failure to understand the what robots in manufacturing mean will leave your company trailing behind your competitors.

Are American Workers Forgetting the Impact of Robots in Manufacturing?

There have been a lot of promises on the campaign trail this year, and now with the election over, it would seem those promises may come true. Unfortunately, there is a problem that everyone seems to be overlooking. You cannot bring back jobs to something that is no longer in need of them. However, the U.S. does need manufacturing, so what does that mean?

Foreign countries, or trade, are not necessarily the sole cause of the loss of manufacturing jobs, explains Paul Wiseman of the Associated Press. American manufacturing reached more than $1.91 trillion last year, but it is still behind China’s lead in global manufacturing, which seems nearly impossible with so many fewer jobs in the U.S. The answer is simple; robots in manufacturing have replaced many American manufacturing workers.

Only 13 percent of lost U.S. manufacturing jobs were due to overseas outsourcing and foreign manufacturing. The remainder were the result of increasing automation and use of robots in manufacturing.

For example, Ford employs approximately 200,000 workers, one-third of its 1970 payroll, yet it pushes out more vehicles than ever before. Ultimately, robots have could increase economic production from manufacturing at much lower labor costs than ever before.

Robotics Boost Manufacturing

Robotics boost manufacturing by creating an efficient means of completing specific products. Robots do not get tired, weak or forget their responsibilities. They can be taught new skills with the simplicity of downloading a file from the internet, and they can automatically alert plant managers when something is about to go wrong.

The impact of robots in manufacturing is not limited to plant floors either. Robotics are becoming a central focus of other major sectors, including their applications in trucking and driverless cars, reports VOA News. While the idea of a self-driving truck might seem unappealing, driver decisions, including alcohol use, texting, mistakes and other distractions account for 94 percent of all auto accidents, claiming the lives of thousands of people annually. Of course, driverless cars are robotically controlled, and they have caused some accidents. However, the first robots ever created needed some fine tuning here and there.

The Roles of Manufacturing Jobs Are Changing

20 years ago, 1.8 million people worked in U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing, explains Don Lee of The Los Angeles Times. However, the remaining 600,000 textile workers are already completing the vital processes in manufacturing, and some labor costs are still cheaper overseas. In other words, reshoring of these jobs could help boost U.S. manufacturing jobs, but the next wave of robotics could easily undermine these efforts as more robots become capable of performing the same laborious tasks faster and more accurately than human workers.

To make up for this transition, robotics are not people. Consequently, they have spurred the growth of a new type of manufacturing job, robotics maintenance. People are needed to make repairs and develop the software and hardware systems required by robots in manufacturing. Currently, the level of dexterity needed to make repairs is not available in robots, but it will be in the future. Therefore, the job roles in manufacturing will undergo another level of change. Ultimately, more high-skilled workers and tech-service jobs will be created when this occurs, opening the floodgates for a revolution among what it means to be a manufacturing worker.

Changing roles in manufacturing is not new to the industry. Before the Industrial Revolution, blacksmiths, farm equipment, and other items were needed, so many jobs were created. With the advent of the modern era, these occupations have become obsolete. In their place, rose giant factories.

Another consideration in robotics is their increasing popularity. While China has taken many jobs, Chinese companies are beginning to invest more in robotics. Those jobs that Americans want back may be gone from the foreign land in a few years. In fact, China is now the largest global market for industrial robot sales.  Per the International Federation of Robotics, China will be using more than one-third of all industrial robots worldwide by 2018. Clearly, China is learning from U.S. example.

Why Are Robots in Manufacturing Important?

What are you reading this post on? Regardless of how far removed you feel, your simple act of reading reflects the use of robots in manufacturing. Even the simplest computer systems have robotic components somewhere. For example, Google Voice and Siri are both automated, robotic systems. Robots do not have not move things for them to be effective, so it is in your best interest to look at robotics as the next era of humanity. Innovation is the source of all jobs, no matter their size or scope.

What are your thoughts on robots in manufacturing? Will they continue to help us gain efficiencies and create different, higher paying jobs? Or will they decrease jobs so much, that it will hurt the economy? Let us know in the comments section below.