Robot labour booms in the US

Shipments of robotic equipment to US factories increased by 16 percent last year, according to a new study

In the food and consumer goods sectors, shipments of robots swelled by 60 percent, while semiconductor and electronics plants saw a 50 percent rise in consignments

US companies put more robots to work in 2018 than ever before, according to data from the Association for Advancing Automation (AAA) that was seen by Reuters.

A record 28,478 robot shipments were made last year to companies operating in a range of sectors across the US economy, a 16 percent increase on 2017 figures, the report, released on February 28, reveals.

Automation is becoming increasingly prevalent across manufacturing industries in particular due to the need to trim labour costs while boosting factory output

Shipments increased in every sector mentioned in the report, with the exception of the automotive industry, as carmakers cut back on automated labour after finishing a major tooling project for new truck models.

In the food and consumer goods sectors, shipments of robots swelled by 60 percent, while semiconductor and electronics plants saw a 50 percent rise in consignments. Metal producers also purchased 13 percent more robots than in 2017.

Automation is becoming increasingly prevalent across manufacturing industries in particular due to the need to trim labour costs while boosting factory output.

Historically, robotics has had a strong foothold in the car production sector, but the increasing availability of cheaper machines has made automation viable across a wider range of businesses.

Bob Doyle, Vice President of the AAA, told Reuters that automation is moving far beyond its traditional position in auto assembly plants and other large manufacturers into warehouses and smaller factories.

Increasing automation has prompted concerns about how robotic labour will impact job markets. Employment figures, however, show that between July 2017 and July 2018, the US added 327,000 manufacturing jobs, the highest figure since 1995. The sector further benefitted from a boost in overall economic activity and a federal tax cut in the same period.

Data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis also indicated that US manufacturers are producing at near-record levels.

Economists have questioned the longevity of this jobs growth as the role of manufacturing in the US economic landscape continues to diminish, falling from 28.1 percent of GDP in 1953 to 11.6 percent in 2017.

When production demand inevitably falls, it’s likely manufacturers will choose automated labour over its human counterpart, given that robots offer both a productivity and cost advantage.