As the national economy recovers from financial crisis, the US manufacturing and engineering sectors are leading the charge back to economic health. However, both sectors have been fundamentally changed by the recession, so now they have to change and adapt to thrive.
For many companies in these sectors, technology seems to offer a host of opportunities. With greater automation and more technological input to key processes, firms can benefit from better outputs, more predictable results and, frequently, lower labor costs. But what does that mean for those of us in the workforce? Will we all be put out of work by robots in the next few years, or will workers, too, simply have to adapt to the brave, new, post-recession world?
Is it often assumed that robots – and technology in general – have the key benefit of being more precise than a human worker, and it seems that manufacturing and engineering are taking this idea particularly seriously now.
A good example of this is the load cell. Load cells are transducers that are used to measure very high compressive and tensile force, high pressures and weights. They are high-tech devices that must be supplied by expert companies such as Transducer Techniques. Their high-tech nature makes load cells utterly different to the traditional, mechanical forms of assessment that they have replaced in virtually all industrial sectors.
Load cells are markedly more accurate than their mechanical predecessors, offering accuracies around 0.03% to 0.25%, so it is not difficult to see why they are now so widely used.
In a similar way, many industry sectors now use remote monitoring technology, often sensor-based, to maintain an overview of production, quality and/or equipment status. These are used to assess a range of parameters such as velocity, directional movement, temperature and air pressure, and sensors can be permanently installed within equipment so that there is a constant flow of reporting to a computer at another location. This information allows managers to make alterations in the work environment or equipment wherever they are needed, in a timely fashion, and thus keep systems constantly running at optimal levels of output and accuracy.
So what does this mean for the people making up the modern workforce? Well, history suggests that fighting progress is generally pointless, so it seems likely that we will simply have to start thinking about our jobs in a different way. Yes, some jobs will be lost to technology, but how many more will be created in order to develop, produce, market and maintain that technology?
To some extent, we have already begun to do this: many first world, mature economies, such as that of the US, are already more service-led than reliant on traditional heavy industry. Society in general has happily embraced new technology, taking eagerly to social media and increasingly preferring smartphones to landlines. Similarly, we have little choice but to learn about the technologies connected to our work, and put them to the best possible use – even if that means that our jobs change and evolve, or that we move into a different type of employment entirely.