From “Robot Replace Human”
An interesting article from the Chines People’s Daily website reports on how phone manufacturing company Changying Precision Technology Company in Dongguan, China has upgraded its production lines to be operated solely by robotic arms.
From the article:
“The first unmanned factory in Dongguan, a city of southeastern China’s Guangdong province, lays out a vision of future manufacturing: all the processes are operated by computer-controlled robots, computer numerical control machining equipment, unmanned transport trucks and automated warehouse equipment. The technical staff just sits at the computer and monitors through a central control system.”
This radical change has reduced the number of employees at the company from 650 to 60, and there is a planned reduction to only 20 employees in the future. The result of this change has led to a decrease in defective products from 25% to 5%, and an increase in productivity from 8,000 pieces per person per month, to 25,000.
This factory transformation has been made possible by subsidies from Guangdong province, a major manufacturing region in China which is investing over $150 billion in the next three years to help companies transition to robotic production, partly because of an apparent labor shortage in the area. Many workers in China are leaving manufacturing because of poor working conditions and the desire for a more middle-class lifestyle. Also the population is aging with fewer younger workers available in the workforce.
Advances in robotics has led to widespread discussion thoughout the world on what the impact on society will be — and here’s quite a dramatic example. From a business owner’s perspective there could be seen to be many advantages to using robots instead of humans in manufacturing processes. They can run 24/7 under harsh conditions, and don’t quit, get sick, become fatigued or discontent — and can increase product quality and production output.
So from many points of view, this can look like progress. As goods are produced with lower input costs, there is a downward pressure on consumer prices, allowing for improved standards of living. However the inevitable question arises: if automation is the trend in manufacturing around the world, what is the impact on jobs? Some say new jobs will become available as the number manufacturing jobs shrink and new technologies come online. Others say that this time things are different: automation is taking place at a much faster pace than new jobs are being created. We’re going to have to see how all this plays out.
The Six Subsectors of the Imperial Empty Quarter are depicted as a low-tech, struggling economic region, effectively a slum area of the Imperium where the average TL is 9 (compared to the Imperial average of 12).
But there is one high-tech world with a decent population, Ushmigad. It’s TL E, with 70 million people. If I as the scenario-designer really wanted to, I could decree that there are 500 industrial robots for every organic sophont, boosting the productive workforce to 35 billion.
But this would have knock-on effects and serious implications for the rest of the Traveller economy, so it’s best to just let things stay as they are.
The fudge factor isn’t too bad right now (2015), but as we actually reach and surpass Traveller levels of high technology over the next century (without the FTL drives, no psionics, and maybe no antigravity either – but lots of (man-made) aliens and droids), the fudge is going to get out of control.