Skilled work, without the worker

August 19, 2012

Chinese factory workers (credit: Robert Scoble/Wikimedia Commons)

A new wave of robots, far more adept than those now commonly used by automakers and other heavy manufacturers, are replacing workers around the world in both manufacturing and distribution, The New York Times reports.

Factories like a Philips Electronics factory in the Netherlands, where 128 robot arms do the same work  as hundreds of workers in  sister factory, are a striking counterpoint to those used by Apple and other consumer electronics giants, which employ hundreds of thousands of low-skilled workers.

Such advances in manufacturing are also beginning to transform other sectors that employ millions of workers around the world. One is distribution, where robots that zoom at the speed of the world’s fastest sprinters can store, retrieve and pack goods for shipment far more efficiently than people. Robots could soon replace workers at companies like C & S Wholesale Grocers, the nation’s largest grocery distributor, which has already deployed robot technology.

Rapid improvement in vision and touch technologies is putting a wide array of manual jobs within the abilities of robots.

Robot manufacturers in the United States say that in many applications, robots are already more cost-effective than humans.