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Supply Chain Graphic of the Week: What will be the Impact of Robots on Manufacturing Employment?


Many are Worried Robots will Just Eliminate all the Jobs, Boston Consulting Group Believes the Advances will Actually Increase Total Employment

April 21, 2016
SCDigest Editorial Staff

The advances in robotic technology generally and in manufacturing and distribution specifically are almost staggering, with news of such progress litererally coming almost daily.

That has many - including the editors here at SCDigest - to have concerns about what this will mean in the end for societies across the globe. Will there be anywhere near enough jobs left for the billions of people who need them, or will the robots simply take over to a degree that is hard to fathom?


This robot invasion will be highlighted soon in our new Supply Chain Megatrends for 2016, released for the first time last week by SCDigest editor Dan Gilmore during a presentation at the University of Tennessee Supply Chain Forum.


With that in mind, we thought it was worth noting that the smart people over at consulting firm Boston Consulting Group (BCG) have a generally positive view of this robotics-oriented future.


In a report released last Fall, BCG says at least for some time, robotics and related advanced manufacturing technologies in total are actually likely to add to total employment, not reduce it.


It notes as parallels, for example, that "industrial production was transformed by steam power in the nineteenth  century, electricity in the early twentieth century, and automation in the 1970s. These waves of technological advancement did not reduce overall employment, however. Although the number of manufacturing jobs decreased, new jobs emerged and the demand for new skills grew."


Even in manufacturing, BCG sees that robotics will likely simply make existing jobs less difficult, rather than eliminating the jobs, as simply illustrated in the graphic below from  BCG:



Source: Boston Consulting Group


BCG notes such robotic worker assists may be especially useful given the clear trend in developed economies towards aging workforces.


That all sounds good, but in the above scenario, will companies really only use the robots as assistants, and not to do the entire task without a human?


We're not so optimistic on that front, though we will note that one point made by BCG - that humans will be needed to support increased customization of final products - is supported by the recent decision by Mercedes to pull back on robots in favor of humans on auto production lines for that very reason. (See Mercedes Says Robots not Flexible Enough to Deal with Growing Number of Options, but Overall Number of Robots in Manufacturing Expected to Soar.)


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