Over the past few years, industry has been buzzing with talk about IIoT, automation replacing workers, and how machine learning and AI are the next big thing. A few weeks ago, IBM held a debate where their ‘Project Debater’ competed against a human professional. While the robot was not deemed the winner, it did showcase the robots’ ability to rapidly respond and pivot argument points based on the other person’s interaction. It was a lively and visual representation of what the future of artificial intelligence will look like. The world is now beginning to realize that AI implementation and mass availability aren’t too far off. For those thinking about the job market in the coming decades, we have to wonder: what future jobs are going to be available for the next generation?
While no one can know for sure, just looking at recent industry changes gives some foresight. A prime example is McDonalds; they’ve been a big provider of part time casual labour jobs. Recently they’ve adopted a self serve kiosk where customers are able to order and pay for themselves. The number of front line staff at the counter has greatly decreased. This is one example where simple and repeatable jobs are being replaced by technology. Does that mean that the restaurant industry will be fully automated – of course not. But it is indicative of the types of jobs that robotics and machines are prime to replace humans. Robots never take breaks, rarely act illogically, and don’t get distracted. This makes them perfect to take over the menial tasks that most humans don’t want to do.
The other side of this argument that many forget to talk about is the robot’s themselves! There is a complete industry in place that designs, builds, and programs these machines. For every single machine out in the field replacing menial tasks, a whole team of people have been involved to teach that robot the tasks it’s performing, design recovery procedures, and test to make sure they’re behaving as expected. Like every other machine, robots are not infallible. A complete service industry of field experts is in place to diagnose and repair these machines should a failure happen.
So while many worry that robots are going to replace workers and steal jobs, I would argue that they in fact are generating a much larger sub industry. Let’s let the robots do the job’s that no one wants to, and put our efforts into learning the complicated task of learning what makes these intricate systems work.
The careers of the future lay, as we’ve always believed, in the robotic and automation industry.
Proper manufacturing of torsion springs to specific tolerances can present unique problems for spring makers who are supplying furniture manufacturers. Our solution for one spring maker was to design and manufacture an exceptional machine that can form ASTM A401 chrome silicon wire in diameters from 0.250″ to 0.438″, into torsion springs with inner diameters ranging from 1.25″ to 3.00″. This Servo Torsion Spring Machine was manufactured entirely in-house and designed in 3-D with Solid Works. All programming development was also done in-house. A totally custom solution! The Spring Machine, with a footprint of 12 feet by 20 feet, was supplied with a powered wire uncoiler, a 2-axis wire straightener, pneumatic wire feeder, and a 2,000 PSI hydraulic power unit. Full operator and maintenance training was also provided to the customer.
Used for the manufacture of chair mechanism springs, the Spring Machine was supplied with a 1 year warranty up to 3,000 hours of running time as well as installation, training, and digital & print manuals. Our testing included the processing of multiple spring and endform designs to ensure that we were delivering a state-of-the-art, flexible system. By taking our customer’s unique specifications and utilizing 3-D design and simulations, we were able to produce a Spring Machine that optimizes their spring making operations.
In an earlier blog we talked about pricing and asked whether our focus on price has become an obsession that is costing us in ways which are substantial but not always obvious.
One of those less-than-obvious but costly impacts can be the loss of partnership between vendor and purchaser. At TCA, our Statement of Core Values includes the statement that “We seek true partnerships that create value for all participants”. It is our conviction (supported by many years of experience) that a true partnership relationship between vendor and purchaser will produce the best result for both parties. This is not some namby-pamby arrangement where accountability is thrown to the wind; rather, obligations and commitments on both sides are fully recognized and diligently honored, but the spirit of a shared goal including the need for both sides to create value from the transaction underlies the relationship.
This is particularly true in an environment like the designing and building of custom manufacturing machinery and systems. The purchaser is spending large sums of money and will be depending on the equipment for extended periods of time. Also, the equipment will directly impact both his ability to serve his customer and his ability to be profitable. A supplier like TCA will also invest significant dollars not only in developing and maintaining the infrastructure and systems required to design, build, test and support custom automated production machinery, but also in the development of staff who remain technically and technologically current and who are capable of, and are encouraged to, think innovatively on behalf of our customers.
Of course, price is part of the value equation but where true partnership exists, there is confidence to “pursue creative solutions as a means of providing increased value to all stakeholders” (that’s how we define innovation at TCA) and there is confidence to “say what we mean and mean what we say” (that’s how we define integrity). Stakeholder value rises to the top in an environment of partnership because all parties are freed to focus on how we can be valuable (innovation) rather than how valuable we can be (pricing).
At TCA we have many customers who recognize the value of a purchaser/vendor partnership. Indeed, there are times when an outsider would be hard-pressed to know which staff on a project are from TCA and which are from our customer; this is exactly as it should be because we are all working toward the same goal. The benefits have been so readily recognizable and the level of trust so deep that a major manufacturer in business for over 50 years named us as their exclusive supplier of custom automated machinery.
It has been widely acknowledged that an adversarial relationship between labor and management will not work in the ‘new economy’. However, the relationship between purchaser and vendor can be just as adversarial if the focus on price is allowed to set the tone for everything that follows. A classic adversarial relationship was changed when Mikhail Gorbachev reportedly said to Ronald Reagan in 1987 “We have a secret weapon – we shall cease to be your enemy”. This changed relationship between the world’s superpowers allowed a huge redeployment of resources and facilitated previously unimaginable levels of partnership in areas like the space program. The move from protagonists to partners by purchasers and vendors can also redeploy strategic corporate resources and not only restore value that has been lost, but create value that has never been envisioned.
The manufacturing renaissance is a hot topic these days within our industry, and automation is playing a hand in the process. The use of automated systems and robotics are allowing companies to bring production back to North America for a lower cost than the already inexpensive overseas labor. New advancements in three-dimensional vision, offline programming, and force-sensing technology are making newer robotic animation systems capable of performing more complex tasks according to Design World.
It’s not just a matter of cost when it comes to automation in the manufacturing industry. Robotics could be the answer to issues manufacturers were previously having with quality of the products they were putting out. Senior applications engineer at Bastian Solutions, Steve Kruse spoke to Design World about new automation quality. “Some of the quality issues have left a sour taste,” Kruse said. “Manufacturers are looking towards automation to bring products back, get the quality up, and still maintain a competitive price in the global market.” But what about the jobs of the North American workers that used to perform those tasks? This is where the debate heats up.
At first glance it is easy to assume that automation could kill off many manufacturing jobs, but that simply is not the case. The business that automation would be taking is from other countries that are offering cheap labor, so automation may actually be able to bring more manufacturing back to North America that had migrated overseas. While this may not create large numbers of traditional manufacturing jobs, the machines will need skilled personnel for repair, upkeep, and operational overseers, as well as company administrative employees, and many other opportunities for good positions.