Industry 4.0 and Industrial Robots: Are our jobs at risk?

  • December 19, 2016
  • Feature

By Molly Connell, Online Marketing, TradeMachines

Industry 4.0 is here and it is making changes. The trend of data exchange and automation in factories is expanding rapidly and it’s presence is proven by countless numbers. For example, while in 2002 69.000 robot units were sold, in 2016 this number increased significantly and was 290.000. By now there are approximately 1.8 million robots in operation.

While installing robots has been an option for manufacturers for quite a while now, the fact that they have become more affordable and suitable for more types of tasks, triggered the boost of robots sales. “Affordable” might sound surprising at first, but considering that the Boston-based Rethink Robotics offers factory robots for as much as $25.000 which is equivalent to paying a full-time human worker $4 an hour over the life of the machine, the term is unquestionable.

Despite its positive effects on the economy, many experts oppose Industry 4.0. This intensive change in manufacturing evoked the fear of massive job loss. For example, in the near future, almost half of work activities in the United States could be fulfilled by robots opposed to the 5% of occupations which can be entirely automated. How could society coop with such drastic change?

There are other phenomenon though that can still give us hope. If robots were a substitute for human workers, then the countries with higher investment rates in automation should have experienced higher employment loss in their manufacturing sectors. Nonetheless, Korea, France, and Italy lost fewer manufacturing jobs than the United States, even as they introduced more industrial robots. Also, Germany has twice as many robots per 10.000 workers as the U.S and still has experienced a lower employment drop in manufacturing while increasing industrial production since 2000. There is no proven relationship between the country’s use of robots and the number of manufacturing jobs lost.

So what can be expected from Industry 4.0? Just like after the industrial revolution, a shift in demand is foreseen in the labor market. The highly predictable physical work positions are more likely to be overtaken by robots while their implementation creates jobs that require a higher qualification. If you look at TradeMachine’s infographic, you can find further statistics to confirm this theory. Of course, nothing certain can be stated, but at the moment there is no reason to be concerned about robots superseding humans.

About the Author

Molly Connell is responsible for Online Marketing at TradeMachines. As a member of the Berlin-based, fast-growing online start-up - the search engine for used machinery - her job is to enhance brand awareness and visibility.

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