ARTIFICIAL Intelligence machine popularly called robots are fast taking over jobs from factory workers.
This is happening globally and already making inroad into the Nigerian manufacturing sector. File: Robot Investigation by Vanguard, showed that manufacturers across the globe are using robotics to solve today’s manufacturing challenges – from coping with rising labour costs to maintaining factory productivity in an increasingly competitive global market. Here are some facts: “Japan was one of the first nations in the world to capitalize on the low overhead of factory robots. As negative population growth drove up wages, Japanese manufacturers turned to automation to cut costs. The nation has since invested $50 million in robotic development programmes and currently controls 40 per cent of the total factory robotic population around the world. By 2025, the Japanese government predicts 15 million manufacturing jobs will be replaced by robots. “Germany, on the other hand, is leveraging robotics to grow the nation’s manufacturing base and bring factories (read: jobs) back home. It’s no coincidence that the country with 43 per cent of Europe’s factory robot population also enjoys an export ratio of 63 per cent. Government incentive programmes encourage German manufacturers to adapt automation and help to sustain the nation’s global competitiveness. “In the last fifteen years, manufacturing in the United States has undergone a fundamental shift. As millions of U.S. manufacturing jobs have been lost to outsourcing and automation, output has steadily continued to grow. While U.S. manufacturing output has decreased by only one per cent since 1990, manufacturing jobs have decreased by over 30 per cent in the same time period. Bottom line – we’re producing more goods as a nation, but we no longer need the same amount of manpower to make it happen.” Investigation further revealed that Nigerian manufacturers especially in Food & Beverage industry, cement and automotive industry are deploying robots to drive their operations. For instance, Yale Bread. It is manufactured locally by Yale Food Limited, Ibadan. The product carries this slogan in Nigerian Pidgin: “Bread Wey Hand No Dey Touch.”This means the bread is made without human contacts. Findings further revealed that over 230 staff of a milk company in Lagos will soon lost their jobs to robots. It was learned that the milk company with presence in over 30 African countries has installed the machine and has concluded arrangements with the Labour Union to pay off all staff (from top to bottom) that would be affected by the exercise. What industry experts say A report by Pricewatercoppers, PwC, shed light on what the robotic takeover means for the factory and workers. It noted: “Industrial robots are on the verge of revolutionizing manufacturing. As they become smarter, faster and cheaper, they’re being called upon to do more. They’re taking on more “human” capabilities and traits such as sensing, dexterity, memory and trainability. As a result, they’re taking on more jobs – such as picking and packaging, testing or inspecting products, or assembling minute electronics. The report added:”In the big picture, automation means progress. Robots are designed to perform the same dull and repetitive tasks currently performed by manual labor—but in a safer, faster and more consistent fashion. As robots become a core part of a competitive manufacturing business, the demand for higher skilled robot-savvy engineers, programmers and service technicians will grow. And the more high-wage job opportunities are created, the more Americans can enjoy a higher standard of living—improving our economic status in the world. “ According to Iphone manufacturer, Foxconn founder and CEO Terry Gou, with Foxconn’s three-year plan to integrate over 1 million robots into its assembly lines, more workers will soon be phased out of jobs. He believes robots will help the company increase efficiency and cope with rising labor costs. Also, John Dulchinos, President and CEO of Adept Technology, said: “Not only is the robotic takeover inevitable, but it is a natural part of a continually advancing society. If you look out far enough, machines are going to win. The human body was not designed to be a factory machine. It was designed to be a thinking machine.” In view of the foregoing, as automation becomes standard practice, what will happen to the line and assembly workers phase out of their jobs? If nothing is done to transition these workers into new roles alongside their robotic counterparts, they may not be far from the unemployment line. While summits are one opportunity for manufacturers to begin discussing solutions, the problem is large and widespread—and it will take a concentrated effort by corporations, government officials, manufacturers, technologists and the public at large to make the transition to an automated manufacturing floor casualty-free.