“Man versus Machine?” – It’s time to rethink robotics in the workplace

By Shermine Gotfredsen, APAC General Manager of Universal Robots Pte Ltd There is a widespread fear that when new machines are installed on the factory floor, large numbers of jobs swiftly disappear. The machines in question may change over time—few of us would view weaving machines as a threat to our livelihood today, after all—but the worry that automated technology will negatively impact employment has existed since the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century.  These apprehensions have caused many people to dismiss the facts and possibilities of robotics in the workplace. It is time for us to rethink the role and the realities of automation. It is time that we stop thinking in terms of “man vs. machine,” and start thinking in terms of “man with machine.” Misconception and reality One explanation for the pervasive belief that robots are “stealing” jobs is that all industrial robots are often painted with the same brush. In reality, industrial robots vary greatly. Lightweight, collaborative robots, or cobots as they are often called, differ enormously from traditional industrial robots that must be kept behind safety shields in order to avoid contact with humans. In fact, these cobots were developed with the intention of allowing the skills of man and machine to be combined. According to a recent study carried out by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), the number of robots sold globally will have doubled to about 400,000 units by 2018. 70 percent of those sales will come from China, Japan, USA, South Korea and Germany. South Korea is the front-runner of this group, deploying 478 industrial robots for every 10,000 employees in the country. In China, this figure currently stands at 36 units per 10,000 employees. Looking at the real numbers–in these cases 4.8 or .4 robots for every 10,000 employees—should give us some […]