A Labor Day Look at Automation’s Impact
In light of Labor Day, with a national unemployment rate hovering around nine percent, an article at Inside Science News Service examines the impact of advanced technologies on American manufacturing. Increased automation and other lean manufacturing techniques means that industry can be more productive with fewer workers. Also, over the past decade, automation technologies have grown increasingly cost-attractive and easier to use, so that even small- and medium-sized manufacturers are able to benefit.
While technology has been a boon to American manufacturing, it has not been so kind to the industry's workforce. From the article:
Although there are one-third fewer factory workers than there were only 10 years ago, manufacturing in the United States is thriving. From 2001-10, manufacturers shed nearly 5 million manufacturing jobs, yet the value of manufactured goods rose 27 percent, and U.S. exports reached their highest level in 20 years. Technology is not only responsible for many of the job losses — but also for the increased output as well.
Automation isn't the only culprit. Some of the positions that survive strategic workforce reductions are then offshored to low-wage countries. However, the situation may be at a tipping point. With rising productivity in US factories and increasing wages in China, the cost gap between the two countries is quickly shrinking. These trends will eventually negate the offshore advantage, especially once shipping and inventory costs are factored in.
Companies such as Ford, NCR, Coleman, and Peerless Industries have already begun moving some of their production back to the US from China, and industry experts are confident this trend will continue. While this means more jobs, they will be different jobs than in the past. There will be a need for more educated workers, especially engineers; however, smarter manufacturing software will help level the playing field by making technology easier to use for the ordinary worker.