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News January 22, 2013

Keynoter at ProMat/Automate show takes on 60 Minutes premise on robotics

The venerable and popular '60 Minutes' show ruffled more than a few feathers in the manufacturing sector with a January 13 show suggesting that the growth of robotics and automation in the U.S. comes at the cost of jobs.
Christensen ProMat

Henrik I. Christensen, Kuka Chair of Robotics & Director of Robotics at Georgia Tech, tackled that premise head on in his January 21 keynote presentation that opened the co-located ProMat and Automate 2013 shows, running through January 24 at Chicago’s McCormick Place.

Referring to the 60 Minutes television show as an unfortunate piece of bad journalism, Christensen argued convincingly that because automation drives productivity as it does, it grows jobs. The best example of this, he noted, is the formation of the Tesla Motors in Palo Alto, CA, where wages are as high as they are anywhere in the world. But because the business model behind Tesla leans heavily on automation strategies that optimize productivity and efficiency, the firm has brought job growth to California. “Remember, when Tesla chose to locate here, the whole supply chain stayed here,” said Christensen. “For every job created in manufacturing, 1.3 jobs are created in a related area.”

Christensen also noted that manufacturers including Lenovo, Apple, and others are busy “re-shoring” some of their manufacturing operations because advances in automation and robotics are making it possible. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that wages in Asia have risen some 500% lately. But still, without advances in technology, re-shoring would not be taking place the way it is. Christensen emphasized repeatedly that the combination of high productivity here in the U.S. and the closing salary gap that used to separate Asia and the U.S. equals opportunity in the U.S.

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