One of the ongoing worries about the future of automation, particularly in electronics manufacturing, is that the increasing use of machines will result in decreasing the number of employees, as robots replace humans on the line.
Companies hoping to take advantage of the potential improvements in productivity and reduction in errors provided by automating aspects of production can face considerable backlash from employees concerned about the future of their positions.
These concerns are often misplaced.
The increasing use of machines in electronics manufacturing does not mean that demand for employees is decreasing. Rather, automating manual, repetitive tasks enhance employment for people, freeing them from more tedious aspects of their jobs and creating more time for higher-level, strategic responsibilities.
In relation to the electronic manufacturing industry, automation often eliminates the tedious and time-consuming tasks of manual date entry. Most electronics professionals along the electronic component supply chain receive thousands of RFQs and POs to open, review, and sort by hand.
Related: Key Benefits in Automating Electronic Component Purchasing
Through automation, much of this manual work is eliminated, proving that software only eliminates manual processing, not manufacturing jobs.
Case Study: Siemens Amberg
If it were true that machines would replace humans in manufacturing, one would find that companies or industries with high investment in robotics had higher-than-average unemployment; or that in specific companies, more robots equal fewer workers.
However, a study that appeared in the Harvard Business Review showed that Germany, which has over three times as many robots per hour worked than the U.S., lost less than half the number of jobs in the electronic manufacturing sector than the U.S. did. If an increased use of robots led to a decrease in manufacturing employment, one would expect to see a correlation in these numbers that does not exist.
The Siemens Amberg Electronics plant is a great example of process automation. While 75% of tasks are automated at the plant, the number of employees has remained at approximately 1,200; a number that has been relatively unchanged since the plant was established in 1989.
At the same time, automation has increased productivity at the plant by 800%, with a product quality rating of 99.9988%, achieved not by replacing humans with robots, but by changing the kind of work that people are expected to complete.
A recent report from the Center for Economic and Business Research (CEBR) showed that investment in robotics contributed 10% of GDP per capita growth to the countries studied, and that this investment provides a better value in the long run that similar investments in finance, real estate or transportation. In addition, the CEBR concluded that the use of robots in the workplace does not result in the reduction of employees.
Rather than a mutually-exclusive proposition, the future of robotics rests in the idea that the skills of each are mutually beneficial and complementary.
With automation of manual labor and repetitive tasks, regular employees will be able to use creative, problem-solving abilities and better contribute to the creation and execution of company strategy and improvements.
What Companies Must do to Remain Competitive
As higher-level skills become more valuable in an automated environment, companies must commit to reskilling employees to contribute to a changing business in a different way.
Company-sponsored training and education, as well as apprenticeship programs, certifications, and corporate support for vocational and continuing education programs are all ways in which businesses can ensure that current and aspiring employees have the skills required to meet future challenges.
A changing environment means that the demands placed on workers will change, too. And in order to meet changing demands for new skills, employees must be educated. Supporting those efforts is the best way a company can prepare for the changed work environment caused by increasing investment in robotics.
In the end, all evidence points to the idea that increasing automation will change the employee work environment for the better. As automation takes over more repetitive, manual tasks, employees will be able to contribute in a different, more challenging, and ultimately more rewarding way. Installation of automated solutions, even in manufacturing, does not represent an either-or choice between robotic versus human employees.
Through Orbweaver Advance, manual RFQ vs RFP processing is eliminated entirely. Through this automation solution, an increase in quote responsiveness can increase up to 1000% and helps to streamline the supply chain processes, changing valuable IT employees from data entry clerks to strategic drivers of company vision.