The biggest “union” of manufacturing workers today is one that counts robots as its members, and chances are very high that the robots making, packing, sorting, and shipping cars, TVs, cellphones, and a million and one other things were made by Japanese robot giant Yaskawa.
“Robots are everywhere, and Yaskawa is a big reason for that,” said Yaron Mordechai, head of Robotics at Yaskawa Israel. “We’ve been with the company since 1996, and specialize in helping adapt the Japanese company’s technology for use in Western countries, among other things.”
For those who haven’t gotten the bulletin yet, robots are the manufacturing wave of the future, according to a wide range of manufacturing experts. Already, robots are responsible for more than half the manufacturing process at most car manufacturers, and they are increasingly being used even in areas that require a great deal of human expertise, such as in surgery, where they are programmed and supervised by medical staff.
It’s all part of the general trend of automation in the home and workplace, with machines doing the heavy lifting.
Those robots will be taking the place of humans, who will have to find other jobs – jobs that most experts believe will evolve and even be plentiful as the new industrial revolution, driven by robotics, takes center stage in manufacturing. According to a report by McKinsey, robots will replace 25% of industrial workers over the next decade, and the percentage could be much higher by 2050.
But like in previous industrial revolutions, there will be plenty for humans to do, as lower manufacturing costs create new opportunities for business development, production, sales, shipping, and many other areas provide new jobs, said Dominic Barton, global managing director at McKinsey, at a recent Wall Street Journal symposium on robotics.
“The economic value created by increased automation is significant. In the industrial space alone, we expect that robots could provide up to $1.2 trillion in value by 2025 through labor-saving productivity gains,” he said. “In addition, robot applications in medicine (e.g., mobility aids and surgery), commercial services (e.g., retail and logistics) and personal services could create more than $3 trillion in value by 2025 through improvements in quality of life and time savings.”
Of course, not everyone is as optimistic about the prospects for the employment market in a roboticized economy. In that Wall Street Journal symposium, Robert Plant of the University of Miami said that “the premise voiced by automation advocates is that robotic systems will free us to do more innovative things and have more free time. Ironically, the same was said about robots and computers in the 1960s and 1970s but it hasn’t yet worked out to be that way.”
But like in previous technology revolutions, lower costs and greater efficiency guarantee that businesses and institutions will forge ahead with automating their operations, regardless of the effects on society.
To show off what robots can do for them, Yaskawa has opened a state of the art robotics center, to demonstrate their capabilities and advantages. Among the innovations that will be on display at the visitor’s center, said Mordechai, will be new seven-armed robots, “which will set a new standard in manufacturing” over the current widely used six-armed robots.
“These new robots have been designed to perform tasks that previously could only be done by humans. The addition of an arm allows for more flexibility, speed, and strength, and were developed specifically to accommodate modern manufacturing methods in use in Japan and elsewhere today,” he said.
The Yakasawa center is open to company representatives and individuals by appointment. Keren Rosner, head of marketing at Yakasawa Israel, said that the center will eventually bring in groups from schools and other organizations to check out the robotic future as well. “We hope the center will dissolve some of the myths that have grown up around robotics, and assuage some of the concerns people still have. Robots are a clear part of the future, and we’re proud to bring that future to people here in Israel.”