‘THE NEW HIRE’ is the name of a September survey published by Pricewaterhouse Cooper (PwC). It’s not about how to make newly-hired people more comfortable and productive. It’s about how the R generation – the latest iteration of industrial robots – is transforming manufacturing. More than one-half of the 120 manufacturing firms surveyed already have adopted robotics technologies. Auto manufacturers employ robots, as do food; consumer goods; life sciences, pharmaceutical, and biomedical; and metals companies.
PwC predicts the shift to robots will create new jobs for engineers specialising in robots and robotics operating systems. It also is likely to result in the displacement of a fair number of human workers. Currently there are about 1.5 million ‘intelligent industrial work assistants’ labouring around the world. According to The New Hire report:
“Industrial robots are on the verge of revolutionising manufacturing. As they become smarter, faster and cheaper, they’re being called upon to do more – well beyond traditional repetitive, onerous, or even dangerous tasks such as welding and materials handling. They’re taking on more “human” capabilities and traits such as sensing, dexterity, memory, trainability, and object recognition. As a result, they’re taking on more jobs – such as picking and packaging, testing or inspecting products, or assembling minute electronics.”
That may be a little optimistic. Last month, Popular Mechanics reported engineers have been working on mechanical first-responders, like bomb-defusing and investigator robots, to help with threats like Ebola and the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster. The magazine found robots competing in the DARPA Robotics Challenge were more like toddlers and less like capable adults. “For a typical task in the event, turning a valve, a team of several people required an hour or more to prep the robot, and that same team had to stand at the ready to catch their bot when it stumbled (which happened often).”