ForAmericans struggling with stagnant wages, under- or un-employment, one of Donald Trumpsmost appealing campaign promises was tobring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S.
Navigating thecomplexities ofpolicy, tariffs andgeopolitics would make that hard enough already for the president elect.But technology will make this promise nearlyimpossible to fulfill.
Why? Because manufacturing jobs are increasingly done byrobots, not people.
Roboticshavealready helped reducereliance onlabor overseas for manufacturers in automotive, electrical and electronics industries, according to a fresh policy report from the United Nations Conference on Trade & Development.
And automation does allow manufacturers to do business in the U.S. when they may have chosen todoit in Southeast Asia or somewhere else, before.
But when manufacturing returns to thestates,jobs arent coming with it in high numbers. Automation has left workers indevelopingnations without employment,the report notes, and the U.S. faces the same prospect.
Startups creatinginteresting robotics that stand tosteal jobs frompeople, eitherhere or abroad, are attracting seed and venture funding.
Players in this spaceinclude burger flipping and pizza making robots, respectively, fromMomentum Machines and Zume, painting robots fromRational Robotics.Then there are the likes of Modbot and Baxter, robots configurable for a wide range ofpurposes in manufacturing and elsewhere.
Its not just startups, though. LargebrandslikeNike and Adidashave shed contractors and embraced robotics and 3-D printingto maketheir shoes. Large farms have long employed robots in the field, and major companies like Amazon and UPS rely heavily on robots for logistics and warehousing.
UNCTADs report explained,increased use of robots in developed countries erodes traditional labor-cost advantage of developing countries, and is already having a global impact.
Its not just that robots ramp up productivity. They can help companiesstreamline all kinds of headaches affiliated with setting up shop overseas.
A manufacturer outsourcing tovendors or hiring employees across borderswill have to deal with the costs of managing people, design, quality, safety, customs and logistics, regulatory compliance and intellectual propertyfrom afar.
Reshoring becomes more appealing with every technological advance in robots, since it reduces administrative and legal overhead as well as labor costs.
And robots arent getting dumber, obviously. Advances in computer vision and artificial intelligence promise to make robots, and the software-brains inside of them, even more competitive with people,especially in manufacturing but even in physical security orhospitality.
Lets just hope theres always a market for handmade goods and human-delivered services, and perhaps a robot that can help teach former employees new work skills.
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