While vastly improved employment and expanded factory jobs are key priorities in President Trump’s reversal of current dependence on global imports, the unexpected surge of robotics may further complicate these worthy objectives.
While a record number of “hands-on” jobs fulfillment have made job creation increasingly urgent, the sudden upshot in increased industrial robotics has made President Trump’s plans even more difficult than first thought.
In the first quarter of 2017, North American manufacturers spent $516 million on industrial robots, a 32% jump from a similar quarter a year ago, according to a study published by the Brookings Institute. The study indicated that much of such “robots” are ending up in steel and auto manufacturing centers, such as in heavily industrial areas as Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio.
According to the report, there are about nine industrial robots replacing 1,000 workers in Toledo and Detroit plants, three times the figure for 2010. Many of these machines are found in the elements needed for electric cars, developing their heavy chassis, and assembly of batteries, trays, etc., among other tasks. Many such “sorting robots” are also plentiful at red-hot growth Amazon’s massive warehousing and shipping facilities.
But such orders generated in the U.S. are dwarfed by those from China— amounting to some 90,000 units; almost a third of the world’s total industrial robot orders in the past year. Sales to China, for instance, provided 55% of FANUC’s automation units generated in the fiscal year ended in late 2017.
The International Federation of Robotics estimates that by 2019, China’s annual industrial robot orders will rise to 170,000 units; indicating that FANUC will be insulated from any competition in the world’s second-largest economy. That company expects demand in China to outstrip supply, even after FANUC opens a factory in Japan next August. This facility will be dedicated solely to keeping up with China’s economic demand.
The effects and possible consequences of widespread robotization have yet to be analyzed as to the advantages robotics provide. This is happening in the world’s most populous nation, which is already undergoing a massive conversion from agrarian workers to potential industrial employees.
This simultaneous combination of promising “hands-on” job opportunities, while “robotics” lessens dependence on “blue-collar” jobs, might also severely impact the Trump Administration’s emphatic industrial job increase plans; while absorbing the world’s evolution to robotics. This coming year will determine whether this seemingly contradictory employment attempt will be severely hamstrung as the “U.S. industrialization” makes further efforts to move forward.