It’s hard these days to not hear about the impact that robots, artificial intelligence, and other technological innovations are going to have on “work”. Self-driving cars, robots that cook and serve meals in the home and devices that can anticipate what we want to do almost even before we do are going to make us – some doomsday pundits predict – obsolete. But let’s be realistic. Right now, we have only the smallest window into understanding all it takes for any task to be done, and figuring out how we can apply technology to do the kind of work that humans do almost instinctually will take time.
That said, I have no doubt that these advances will change what it means to work and how work gets done. Almost every day, I talk with manufacturers about the ways in which they expect today’s smart, collaborative robots to help them meet the challenges they face – and it’s not about replacing their human labor force. In fact, across our customer base, the loss of jobs when a robot is introduced to the production floor is negligible. How is that possible, you ask? Simply put – our customers are finally able to match the right resource to the right job. Robots do the repetitive work best suited for automation that, until now, had been out of reach for heavy, industrial robots. The people train the robots, monitor the work, and are free to focus on ways to improve processes, products and solve problems. It’s a model that allows people to do what they do best even better. In the long-term, it repositions manufacturing as a field where the jobs truly are good ones for people, where wages are aligned to support a strong middle-class again and where innovation and creativity become the true drivers of sustainable value and competitive advantage.
It won’t happen overnight. As I said at the start, there’s a lot of learning and experimenting that has to happen. It will happen in waves. We’ve seen the first wave with the innovation in robotics that allows robots to perform more sophisticated tasks, change tasks frequently and to be deployed without significant reconfiguration of the production floor or flow.
Manufacturers like Jabil are already on leading edge of the next wave, recognizing that manufacturing needs to be closer to the centers of design and innovation and closer to end markets. The factories of the future will be smaller, nearer to customers and operated by local talent. These operations will rely more heavily on technology and will need skilled workers, with certifications and a very different kind of education than what’s currently available in most high schools in the country.
Beyond that, we’ll see changes in the ways products are designed, marketed and delivered. Increased innovation cycles, more refined customization and supply chains that are able to respond immediately to fluctuations in demand as well as economic variability will become the characteristics of market leaders.
Before all that happens though, there’s a lot of work to be done. We’ve got to figure out the mechanics of tasks, how to apply automation to those tasks, what’s missing and how to create innovation to overcome the gaps – the list is long and so then, are the opportunities. It will require cognitive skills and creativity; it will create jobs that contribute to product innovation and competitive value.
For me – a firm believer in the true and lasting value that manufacturing offers the economy and maybe even society as a whole – the most exciting part is this: other industries are depending on manufacturing to show the way. The lessons learned in manufacturing will lay the groundwork for other fields to adopt these innovations for making work better as well.
Now all that’s left is to roll up our sleeves and get to it.
Originally published on Beet Fusion.