In recent years, the number of industrial robots in operation around the world has grown rapidly, but nowhere more so than in China, whose robotic workforce reaches 30%. This growth has prompted many to ponder whether humans are being pushed out of the workforce in favor of their robotic brethren.
However, a study under the title: “How Computer Automation Affects Occupations” suggests that fears of widespread job displacement may be somewhat overblown. The study evaluated more than 300 occupations over a 33-year period to examine the impact of automation. To put it bluntly, it emerged that employment generally rose fastest in professions with the most automation.
Another paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research examined 19 industries over a similar timeframe, showing 19 industries that introduced industrial robots. The conclusions also showed that industries investing most in industrial robotics did indeed suffer lower employment levels, with each robot equating to around six human employees.
These findings suggest that the main problem caused by industrial robotics is not their presence in the workplaces but rather the lack of a presence. This need for greater dissemination of technology was recently promoted by a report from MIT’s taskforce on the work for the future, which argues that there are relatively few organizations that are fully utilizing the technologies of our age, and that productivity stats won’t really move until these technologies are utilized not by the 1% of organizations at the forefront of the economy but by the remainder, which are lagging far behind.
It's into this domain that Israeli startup SixAI Robotics is attempting to make its mark. The company provides a 'robotic recruitment agency' that helps firms access the kind of technologies they need to become more productive and keep pace with their larger rivals. In Japan, for example, one shift by one employee checking parts costs $50,000 per year. The company’s business model is simple – for $50,000 per year, they can provide a robot that can work two shifts, including servicing and maintenance. This is part of a Robotics as a Service (RaaS) market that research from Allied Market Research estimated will be worth some $34.7 billion worldwide within three years.
Investment in robotics is crucial to the health of the economy and indeed has a greater impact than investments in any other technology. However, investment in robotics and automation has not been spread equally around the world. The US leads the way investing heavily, whereas the UK languishes behind peers such as Japan, Germany, and the US itself.
According to SixAI’s founder and chairman, Ran Poliakine, this situation can only be improved by providing a more accessible way to introduce robotics into the workflow of businesses around the world. “Our robot employment agency is a gamechanger. It will provide capacity in markets that struggle with labor capacity, either because of the difficulty of the work itself or due to the cost pressures they face. By offering hourly or task-based rates, our autonomous AI robots are easy to plan for and integrate.”
While costs and expertise are elements that RaaS can help to address by making investments a matter of OPEX rather than CAPEX, there is still a strategic divide in smaller businesses. This was emphasized by a McKinsey survey that showed a 15% gap between large and small companies in terms of the adoption of technologies like industrial robotics.
They provided several strategic recommendations to help bridge that gap:
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