Automation Brings Opportunity
By Bartosz Mazurek, Vice President, Bright Machines
January 29, 2019
Back in 1962, the notion of a personalized vacuum cleaning robot was a science fiction fantasy, and a staple of the popular animated TV show, “The Jetsons”. Flash forward to 2018, and Roombas are vacuuming our floors, Siri is playing our music and maintaining our schedules, and robo-taxis are shuttling students to and from college campuses. The future predicted by sci fi for the past 50 years is here today, nobody is arguing this. I’m personally fascinated because many of the extraordinary innovations and technological advancements are taking place in the electronics assembly market, now valued at an astounding $1.5 trillion dollars. As someone who has spent more than two decades on factory floors, ensuring smooth operations and productivity of electronic products, I know firsthand that these advancements are making tremendous impact. Let’s take a quick look at how manufacturing has evolved over the past 30 years, and what lies ahead as we embark into the fourth major industrial era.
Smart Automation Meets Manufacturing
Automation in manufacturing began in the late 1960s, with the automotive industry at the forefront thanks in part to mass production and the introduction of the assembly line. The electronics industry didn’t follow suit until the 1980s, when the first pick-and-place machines were introduced. Still, manufacturing processes remain largely manual, with only a small number of manufacturing lines being automated today. This is changing at an impressive speed. According to the International Federation of Robotics, robot sales in the electronics industry increased by 33 percent in 2017.
There are a few factors influencing this rapid acceleration:
- Decreased cost of robots coupled with a significant increase in robotics capabilities
- Wage increases in manufacturing
- An aging workforce and a lack of interest among the new generation of workers to occupy manufacturing sector jobs
- Record low unemployment
- High workforce turnover rates
But companies today are not interested in basic, assembly line automation, they want smart automation – and this is where data is having a profound impact on the manufacturing industry. While we used to rely on humans to program robots step-by-step, today data-driven machine learning is enabling robots to become smarter and learn how to deal with each task they are assigned.
With significant cost reduction of different sensors and further development of equipment, software companies today can collect single data parameters directly from machines; and by connecting hardware to networks via IoT, data is now available in real time, giving us real-time information about potential problems and where they exist.
In this way, data is becoming the currency of the future. But generating and collecting data is nothing new; it is using the data in a meaningful way that is new. Using advanced big data analytics, companies can filter the noise, discover patterns and finally make much better business decisions.
Skeptics fear smart automation will create significant job losses – and in fact it’s estimated that as many as 800 million jobs will be automated by 2030 globally. But this is no new phenomenon. According MIT Technology Review, in 1980 25 people were required to generate $1M output. Today that same value would only require 5 people. This is a direct result of technology advancements and change of this nature has been an inevitable result of innovation throughout history. While it’s true that some jobs will go away – there will also be entirely new jobs created as direct a result of these advanced technologies. In fact, the World Economic Forum predicts that intelligent robots will eventually create almost double the amount of jobs for the global economy. Innovations throughout history – from steam engines to computers – have created new opportunities for workers and boosted the economy, and automation is certainly no exception.
The next industrial era will usher in enormous opportunities for companies around the world. Those organizations that are actively learning and investing in innovation will be the true winners.
About the author:
Bartosz Mazurek is a Vice President at Bright Machines focused on strategy and growth within the electronics industry. Previously he was at Flex where he created a process to drive ETE process standardization and helped drive overall operations efficiency, and at GE where he helped to improve labor cost, material costs and other variable costs. Bartosz works in Bright Machines Gdansk, Poland office.