Franklin Connection - Serving Franklin County, WA

COVID-19 clawback spurs robotics

 

Last updated 6/9/2022 at 3:17pm



Prior to the corona virus outbreak, economies in the industrial world were moving along fairly smoothly-— reliable supply chains with “just in time” component arrivals, predictable product deliveries, low interest rates, little inflation, abundant reasonably priced energy, and an adequate workforce in seemingly peaceful world.

It was a set up for a perfect storm!

That cataclysmic eruption two years ago slammed countries worldwide just like what happened with World War I and the Spanish Flu more than a century ago. As if the pandemic wasn’t enough, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine threatens world peace and international supplies.

Who could have imagined a war-torn Eastern Europe, a run on toilet paper and parents driving miles to find infant formula? Who would have thought the price of a gallon of gas would soar past $6 and truckers would pay $7 a gallon diesel?

No one pictured empty car lots and 6-8-month wait lists for new vehicles. When was the last time Boeing’s 737 production line in Renton stopped by lack of parts?

That’s the COVID world we live in and the claw back to a more predictable and stable time is challenging. Today, inflation is spiking at an 8.26% average for the last year. Nationwide, job openings are currently pegged at 11.4 million. That’s prompted companies of all sizes to order robots to maintain production and lower costs. Further acerbating the labor shortage is 4.4 million Americans quit their jobs in April.

Wage increases have been offset by higher prices for groceries, energy and rent.

The one consistent bright spot has been demand for robots and semiconductors which rely on abundant electricity, not vaccines. As employers struggle to find workers, stabilize output, rebuild dependable supply chains and control costs, robots are rapidly showing up in businesses. Orders for workplace robots in our country jumped 40% year-over-year in the first quarter of 2022.

According to the Association for Advancing Automation, during the first three months of 2022, more than 9,000 robots collectively worth $544 million were sold in the U.S.

Interestingly, many of the robots come from China. Data released by the International Federation of Robotics shows Chinese sales of industrial robots increase by 19% in 2020.

Long before the pandemic, China’s national goal was to shake the image of just being a nation for low-cost manufacturing. Instead, it is becoming known for producing cutting edge, reliable and high quality products — even making robots.

The bottom line is as wages surge ahead, robots are replacing jobs. The key is to have more highly trained workers prepared for a world where robots are increasing at an accelerated pace.

— Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He can be contacted at [email protected]

 

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