A new report from the International Federation of Robotics shows that 2.7 million industrial robots are now in service at factories. This is a global record.
How did we get here? It’s not the robotic upsurge we’ve all been expecting because of the pandemic.
Between 2014 and 2019, there was an increase of 85% in sales of industrial robots. In 2020, sales have actually fallen by 12%. The IFR figures this is because so many factories, including the big robotics users in the automative industry, were shut down for safety reasons during much of the year. The pandemic might have made everyone think about how good it would be to have robots on the floor instead of people, but many were not ready to make that investment while they couldn’t make goods to sell.
The report suggests that it may take just two or three years for sales to rebound to pre-pandemic levels.Increased automation is part of the post-pandemic recovery plan in many industries.
Nonetheless, the number of robots at work in factories is at an all-time high.
Effects on humans
One of the main reasons automation is likely to increase as we explore post-coronavirus life is that it’s too dangerous to pack human workers into an assembly line. With the need to keep workers six feet apart comes new automation designs that allow those human beings to work safely.
Automation has taken on dangerous jobs for people over the decades and even centuries. It makes sense that it should continue on this path during the pandemic.
But it also makes sense that robots should replace human workers during COVID-19’s stay. Economists have already shown that recessions tend to give companies the push they need to replace routine, low-paid workers with automation.
Food service, for example, is an industry which has been particularly hard hit during the pandemic. It relies on relatively unskilled workers, and new kinds of robots (like Flippy, and the new Flippy Robot on a Rail) keep showing up in that space.
It’s a great time to get a restaurant automated, and unemployed restaurant workers might be better off looking for some other kind of work.