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Robots Are Joining the Workforce in Droves

More robots than ever before joined the workforce in 2021, and many more are poised to join in 2022, according to Reuters (subscription).

What’s happening: “Companies across North America laid out more than $2 billion for almost 40,000 robots in 2021 to help them contend with record demand and a pandemic-fueled labor shortage. Robots went to work in a growing number of industries, expanding well beyond their historic surge in the automotive sector.”

The data: Factories and other industrial entities ordered more than 39,000 robots in 2021, up 28% from 2020 numbers, according to the Association for Advancing Automation.

Who’s buying: In 2016, more than twice as many robots were sold to automakers than to all other industries combined, but that is changing. In 2020 and 2021, other businesses outbought vehicle manufacturers when it came to robots.

  • Sectors with the fastest-growing appetite for robots: metals, food, consumer goods and e-commerce industries.

New uses: Automaker Stellantis N.V. is using “cobots” in the final assembly of its new Fiat 500 electric vehicle in Italy.  

Workforce-shortage help: The top impetus for companies’ purchase of robots is the labor shortage in manufacturing.

  • For one company, using robots has helped it reduce labor by approximately 50%.
  • “[T]raditional industrial robots … typically replace an entire section of an assembly line with moving arms. But a growing share of robots are a new breed of ‘cobots,’ designed to work alongside humans on assembly lines.”

Perspective: “It is clear that manufacturers and other companies are looking at technology in new ways—accelerated by the pandemic but continuing a trend seen over the past few years,” said NAM Chief Economist Chad Moutray. “From a workforce perspective, automation enhances productivity and assists employees in exciting ways on the shop floor. But it also stresses the need for more technical and digital skills in the workplace, necessitating more training and upskilling of the manufacturing workforce. In a tight labor market, it can also ramp up the war for talent with other industries.”

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