Will automation and robotics create jobs or only cut them?
Less than a week after the Advanced Robotics Manufacturing (ARM) institute was announced as the fourteenth hub in the network of Manufacturing USA institutes, Reuters News Agency published an article headlined “U.S. investors see more automation, not jobs, under Trump administration.”
Dean L. Bartles, executive director of ARM and a past president of SME, agrees in part with that position.
“Some jobs will disappear,” due to robotics and automation, Bartles said, “but others will be created.” The goal of all 14 of the institutes, he noted, is to empower American workers to compete with low-wage workers abroad; create and sustain new jobs to secure U.S. national prosperity; lower the technical, operational, and economic barriers for small- and medium- sized enterprises as well as large companies to adopt novel technologies; and assert U.S. leadership in advanced manufacturing.
Robotics Can Create Jobs
In terms of job creation, he said a consulting group that provided data used in the creation of ARM posited that the productivity and efficiency that ARM could bring to the table could result in more than half-a-million jobs being created.
“Workforce development is a huge part of each of the [Manufacturing USA] institutes,” Bartles said, “and each institute has to include an educational component” to help prepare Americans for the jobs that will dominate the manufacturing landscape in the future. Many of these jobs can’t even be defined today. That’s because the novel technology that will provides these jobs is a long way from being mature enough to reach the marketplace in the near to mid-future
“Each institute has the same mission” he said, “to take technology that currently is at a Manufacturing Readiness Level [MRL] of 3 or 4 and take it to an MRL of 7.”
MRL is a measure developed by the Department of Defense (DoD) to quantitatively assess the maturity of a given technology from a manufacturing perspective. An MRL of 3 is the stage at which the manufacturing proof of concept of the technology is developed. At MRL 7 the capability of producing systems, subsystems or components in a production representative environment has been acquired. At MRL 10 full-rate production of the technology has been demonstrated and lean production practices are in place to support.
Leaving the nest
Once a technology reaches an MRL of 7 the responsibility of the institute, which is a public/private effort, is at an end. Like a young bird leaving the nest, the technology then either takes wing or not based on its merits and the efforts of the members who have partnered with the federal government on the ARM program. If it does take wing, then jobs will be created.
ARM, like the other Manufacturing USA institutes, is expected to be fully self-sustaining after seven years. It is at this point at which federal funding ceases.
“Over the seven years of the program,” Bartles said, “ARM should ramp up to a workforce of only 20 to 25 people. The majority of its work will be done by employees of the ARM members.”
Because the $80 million federal portion of the $253 million ARM effort is coming from the DOD there has been speculation that the institute will have a military focus. While some of the developments created by ARM could eventually be used by the military, Bartles said that “we are only looking at robotics technology that will benefit manufacturing.”
And the manufacturing community has a larger stake—and larger say—in the direction ARM takes. Member organizations will fund nearly 1.5 times as much of the cost of ARM as DOD will. Among the 227 members of ARM there are 123 industrial partners (such as ANSYS, GE, General Motors and Polaris Industries), 40 academic and academically affiliated organizations (Auburn University, MIT and the University of Michigan among them) and 64 government and nonprofit partners (including the City of Pittsburgh, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and SME).