Will robots ever completely replace humans in manufacturing?

Will robots ever completely replace humans in manufacturing?

Welcome to “Ask Deb from QA,” a new column from MxD.

Deb from QA — with decades of experience on the factory floor — will answer your questions to demystify and explain the digital manufacturing industry.

Please submit your questions to debfromqa@mxdusa.org

Hi Deb. Will robots ever completely replace humans in manufacturing?

Whoa there, H.G. Wells, that is quite the question to discover in my inbox. But I know what you’re saying. Even if it reads like science fiction, your question resonates in our industry, since automation is happening. So it’s fine to wonder: “Will my factory even need my services in the future?”

I don’t think humans will be completely replaced, at least not in our lifetime. Remember that movie Back to the Future Part II? That came out in 1989, and they thought that by 2015 we’d all be commuting in flying cars. Yes, technology moves fast, but not so fast that humans will become obsolete. 

Listen, I think robots will continue to automate some manufacturing tasks that humans currently perform. But someone — yes, humans — will be needed to maintain, monitor, update and interface with those increasingly complex systems.

Look at the growing world of haptics interface technology. (Think of a human strapping on a glove that moves a robotic arm.) This field, which certainly has more jobs today than even five years ago, isn’t an example of robots replacing humans — it’s the merging of robot and human. (Like that Will Smith flick I, Robot!)

As robotics becomes more sophisticated, humans will be needed to orchestrate behind the scenes. There is demand for skilled workers in artificial intelligence and machine learning, to name just two sectors. 

Heck, I’ll name a few more, just to prove that the future of manufacturing isn’t scary science fiction but filled with opportunities: Cybersecurity, mechatronics and big data analytics will generate many manufacturing positions in the coming years. 

And this is why I say the future of our industry is exciting. As one job disappears, another job appears. We owe it to ourselves to continue learning and upskilling. (Our friends at the International Academy of Automation Engineering and Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing are invaluable resources.) 

So bring it on, robots! We’ll be ready for ya

Need help on workforce issues such as training, upskilling and recruiting talent? Join MxD. We focus on workforce and other issues too big for any one company to solve on its own. 

Deb from QA wants to hear your questions. Send ‘em to debfromqa@mxdusa.org and she’ll answer as soon she’s done with her shift.