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Robotics United States

US Regaining Manufacturing Might With Robots and 3D Printing 475

Posted by Soulskill
from the finally-something-we-can-exploit-for-cheap-labor-again dept.
For years, the U.S. has been hemorrhaging manufacturing jobs to China because of the vastly cheaper labor pool. But now, several different technologies have ripened to the point where U.S. companies are bringing some operations back home. 3D printing, robotics, AI, and nanotechnology are all expected to dramatically change the manufacturing landscape over the next several years. From the article: "The factory assembly that the Chinese are performing is child’s play for the next generation of robots—which will soon become cheaper than human labor. Indeed, one of China’s largest manufacturers, Taiwan-based Foxconn Technology Group, announced last August that it plans to install one million robots within three years to do the work that its workers in China presently do. It found Chinese labor to be too expensive and demanding. The world’s most advanced car, the Tesla Roadster, is also being manufactured in Silicon Valley, which is one of the most expensive places in the country. Tesla can afford this because it is using robots to do the assembly. ... 3D printers can already create physical mechanical devices, medical implants, jewelry, and even clothing. The cheapest 3D printers, which print rudimentary objects, currently sell for between $500 and $1000. Soon, we will have printers for this price that can print toys and household goods. By the end of this decade, we will see 3D printers doing the small-scale production of previously labor-intensive crafts and goods. It is entirely conceivable that in the next decade we start 3D-printing buildings and electronics."
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US Regaining Manufacturing Might With Robots and 3D Printing

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  • Goodbye jobs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RichMan (8097) on Monday July 23, 2012 @02:06PM (#40739107)

    Say goodbye to a whole lot more mid-level jobs. This is the path we are going down, labor is expensive.

    But what is the cost of a large unemployed population ?

  • by na1led (1030470) on Monday July 23, 2012 @02:09PM (#40739137)
    At least those people working in China might spend some of their hard earned money over here. Robots won't earn any income.
  • by ACluk90 (2618091) on Monday July 23, 2012 @02:10PM (#40739165)
    What an irony when politicians are talking about creating jobs. Economy is not about creating jobs, but about eliminating the need to work and rising the quality of life. This is the way to the future.
  • Re:Goodbye jobs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by crazyjj (2598719) * on Monday July 23, 2012 @02:11PM (#40739177)

    But what is the cost of a large unemployed population ?

    Historically, this has led to political instability and social unrest.

  • Re:Goodbye jobs (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 23, 2012 @02:13PM (#40739201)

    It just means we won't have to do jobs that can be done by robots, and those are tedious and repetitive jobs anyway so no biggie.

    People will be freed up for creative jobs, jobs that involve human intelligence which can't be done by machines. It's not robots writing Diablo III, inventing costumes for the Hobbit movie, writing screenplays, and so on. It will enable so much more human productivity, if we don't have to use valuable human minds on robot-like labour any more.

  • by MozeeToby (1163751) on Monday July 23, 2012 @02:15PM (#40739241)

    By increasing manufacturing efficiency, lowering prices for everyone (including products that aren't produced with automation by increasing the available labor pool for other industries). If you care about giving people jobs more than you care about making products efficiently, why not just have everyone build a giant brick pyramid in the middle of Nebraska. Oh, and make sure they do it by hand, wouldn't want any pesky earth moving equipment costing people their jobs.

  • 4 day work week? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Piata (927858) on Monday July 23, 2012 @02:17PM (#40739253)

    All this automation is great and everything but when does it actually translate into a benefit for humanity in general?

    I'm so glad some business can now churn out more crap to purchase at cheaper prices. When are we going to focus on shortening the work week or making housing more affordable? What about investing more time in expanding humanity's presence in the solar system? Or reducing our environmental foot print?

  • by na1led (1030470) on Monday July 23, 2012 @02:17PM (#40739269)
    People who don't work, are not happy.
  • Re:Goodbye jobs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by crazyjj (2598719) * on Monday July 23, 2012 @02:18PM (#40739287)

    People will be freed up for creative jobs, jobs that involve human intelligence which can't be done by machines.

    And what are the non-creative idiots going to do for a living? Working in the environments that most of us /.ers work in, it's easy to forget that they're still the majority, you know.

  • by wisnoskij (1206448) on Monday July 23, 2012 @02:26PM (#40739421) Homepage

    So you are telling me that we are getting back our manufacturing plants, but are not going to see any more jobs or other benefits, just the negatives?

  • by vlm (69642) on Monday July 23, 2012 @02:31PM (#40739497)

    Moreover, why move your operations back to the US, in such a case? Freed from the need for workers, manufacturing can take place anywhere. Like, say, the place with the lowest local taxation and weakest safety regulations. I can't see much reason for optimism here.

    Transportation. I buy electronic stuff direct from China (think like seeed studios but also PCB mfg houses, etc). Lets say they make my hobby custom microwave RF amplifier PCB $10 cheaper than local, but fedex 3-day costs $15. Right now the ratio is in their favor, but decreasing rapidly. I'm probably going to switch to US pretty soon. As for long term trends, I don't think oil is going to get cheaper. I don't think aircraft are going to get less capital intensive. I don't think postage and handling ever decreases. In the very long run I think PCB houses in China are inherently going away for US customers... there will always be Chinese customers of Chinese PCB houses...

    Doesn't mean someone in my hometown will get a job feeding rolls of SMD devices into a pick-n-place machine or cleaning the filthy wave soldering tank for ancient thru-hole designs, but maybe someone just over the border in .mx might get their job back. Remember the jobs did not go from US to China. They went from US done by citizens, to US done by illegal aliens, to just over the .mx border, to Taiwan, to China. We've got a lot of steps along the way, the return path is unlikely to be China directly back to USA. Look for more "made in taiwan" and "made in mexico" stickers at Walmart to build up and peak before you start seeing "made in the USA" stickers again.

  • Re:Goodbye jobs (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 23, 2012 @02:38PM (#40739619)

    I don't believe he was sneering... I think we all agree it's a legitimate concern. He's honestly asking, what will these people do when we've replaced them with more efficient AI, robotics, and 3-D printers? We're close to the point where society can bear the burden of letting them be unproductive and do whatever they want. But then how do we convince the creative non-idiots to work?

  • Yeah, right. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Jawnn (445279) on Monday July 23, 2012 @02:39PM (#40739631)
    When I start to see a significant number of items on the shelves of the Mega-Lo-Mart with "Made In U.S.A." labels, I'll agree. Until then, "increase in domestic manufacturing" is just useless spin.
  • Re:Goodbye jobs (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MiniMike (234881) on Monday July 23, 2012 @02:40PM (#40739645)

    Don't agree with the use of the term 'idiot' for all non-creative people, but there's plenty of people working now who are in mostly "non-creative" jobs which are not on an assembly line. The entire service industry, the legal industry (i.e. not just lawyers, but all the other affiliated jobs), honest accountants, education, medical industries, etc. Many of those jobs also require some degree of creativity, even if that's not the primary focus.

    As for the actual idiots, who knows what they will do. Maybe we'll have to be creative to think of something for them...

  • Re:Goodbye jobs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by alen (225700) on Monday July 23, 2012 @02:40PM (#40739651)

    100 years ago 90% of the people in the US were employed on farms. today its 4%. why isn't 90% of the USA unemployed?

    new jobs open up and are created

  • by vlm (69642) on Monday July 23, 2012 @02:41PM (#40739661)

    People would need new things to strive toward. Like the saying goes, An idle mind is the devil's workshop.

    Sports, "Hollywood celebrity news", pr0n, video games, social networking ... wait am I supposed to be talking about now, or in the future?

    Education might help. The original point of higher ed was to give the kids of the idle rich something interesting to think about for the rest of their lives ... Give them "good taste" and hobbies and lifetime interests worthy of a man of wealth and leisure. Hence the intense focus on the liberal arts at ancient universities, not so much focus on cooking classes or barrel making classes. The educational-industrial complex could abandon their wanna-be training role of mass producing identical cubical proles for middle class jobs that will never exist again anyway and go back to their roots. Would it really be so bad of a society if one quarter of the population were "into" the fine arts and liberal arts in general, another quarter "into" science and math, another quarter "into" not-so-fine arts like manual labor crafts, and the final quarter too stupid and/or unmotivated to do any of the above hang out on facebook and 4chan all day and play xbox and watch TV and use drugs?

  • Re:Goodbye jobs (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dcollins (135727) on Monday July 23, 2012 @02:49PM (#40739753) Homepage

    "People will be freed up for creative jobs, jobs that involve human intelligence which can't be done by machines."

    This dogma over the last two decades or so has led us right to the edge of record-setting long unemployment and poverty.

    What if there are no paying jobs that can't be done by machines? Because current trends seem to point to this being the case.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 23, 2012 @02:56PM (#40739885)

    but are not going to see any more jobs or other benefits, just the negatives?
     
    No. Not at all.
     
    Consider this: Suppose, as many have said, that there are few, if any, manufacturing jobs available here in the US. Now, for each physical facility that relocates back to the US, there will be a need for:
          * Construction/Renovation of new or existing facilities
          * Facility Maintenance (Janitors, Groundskeepers, etc)
          * Security (Guards, Hardware/Software monitoring systems)
          * Equipment Maintenance (Designers, Installers, (Re)Programmers, etc)
          * Production Support (Assembly Line Monitors, etc)
          * Logistics (Truck/Train Drivers bringing in raw materials and delivering the final products, etc)
          * Support of the above (They will need food, shelter, entertainment, and various necessities (think: clothes, etc), and they will have families. There might also be a need for new roads, train tracks, etc.

    All of this means more jobs and more tax revenues

    I'm sure I've left a lot of benefits out. Will Americans be physically manufacturing things like they did 20-30 years ago? Probably not. Still, if we look at the way things are now, this represents a positive trend in employment and economic growth. If you compare against the economic and employment realities of several decades ago, then yes, it does look negative. We, however, live now, not then, so we have to consider the way things are now, and this would be a win for the US.

  • Re:Goodbye jobs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DM9290 (797337) on Monday July 23, 2012 @03:43PM (#40740585) Journal

    With any luck it will also lead to automatic education systems that will allow all those people learn new skills to better deal with the new world.

    Gosh.. I sure hope we get lucky! Because if we don't get lucky we're looking forward to the collapse of the economy and major violent civil unrest.

    No doubt it will be hard, and impossible for some, but such are any major shifts in economy and production.

    You are envisioning the economy is going to shift to something that robots can not do but people can? shift to what? Poetry? Erotic massage? Surrogate motherhood for the ultra wealthy? Sperm donation? Organ sales?

    All the signs point to the economy shifting towards ever more automation, and ever more accumulation of wealth into the hands of fewer and fewer owners, and there are no signs or reason to suspect this trend is ever going to stop until there is absolutely nothing that anyone can do that a robot can't do better, at which point on what side of the fence are you going to be on when surgical robots show up to harvest your organs at age 18 to pay back all the money you've been borrowing to survive through your childhood but can not possibly repay?

  • by scarboni888 (1122993) on Monday July 23, 2012 @04:06PM (#40740977)

    This will never happen. Computers were supposed to revolutionize our work world because they could make office staff thousands of times more efficient than they were with filing cabinets. Well computers have done their part and the typical office worker IS thousands of times more efficient than they were with a paper-based information infrastructure. The problem here is that you can never overestimate greed. If an organization can do in 2 days what used to take it 5 days it isn't going to pay its workers full pay for 2 days a week!! No instead they get rid of 3/5 of their work force and get the other 2/5 to use the increased efficiency to do what used to be the work of 5 in - you guessed it - a 40 hour work week.

    It is because of this that our work weeks will NEVER shrink and if the anti-union folks get their way you can can on 60 to 100 hour work weeks being the norm REGARDLESS of how efficient and labor saving technology becomes.

  • Re:Goodbye jobs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by shutdown -p now (807394) on Monday July 23, 2012 @04:39PM (#40741479) Journal

    This dogma over the last two decades or so has led us right to the edge of record-setting long unemployment and poverty.

    That's because we refuse to let go of the ancient idea that only those who work should be well-off, and those who don't deserve to be poor, and consequently consider unemployment as a temporary state that should necessarily involve hardship. This is not necessary [wikipedia.org] in a society which can be sustained with only a few people working solely as much as they want for their own self-fulfillment.

    What if there are no paying jobs that can't be done by machines?

    Then there are no paying jobs, and we ditch the current economic system (which, to remind, is ultimately just a way of distributing generated wealth) and move on to the next one.

  • Re:Goodbye jobs (Score:4, Insightful)

    by steveg (55825) on Monday July 23, 2012 @07:03PM (#40743203)

    - you think you are telling me something that I don't know? Something that I didn't say dozens of times here? Eventually these programs will all go away, and it's a great thing, people will have to work again and will be free of gov't again.

    Doing what? Did you miss the part about most jobs being automated away?

    Do you think we want JOBS? NO!

    We want productivity, we want THINGS. We want LEISURE.

    You're absolutely right. If business gets efficient enough, the prices of all these things will plummet. All these shiny things will be incredibly cheap.

    But since most of us will have zero income (since none of these efficient businesses *need* our labor) these incredibly cheap things will be too expensive for anyone except the very rich who own these wonderfully efficient businesses.

    Which will soon collapse because they won't have anyone to sell to.

    Depending on what sort of economic religion you believe in, driving wages down might actually work out if you drive prices down faster. Driving wages to zero (which is what looks like we may be headed for) is not just an extreme version of this, it is qualitatively different. Even if you worship at the alter of the Free Market (as you evidently do) driving income to zero removes the market part -- you have to have someone to sell to.

  • Re:Goodbye jobs (Score:4, Insightful)

    by GodInHell (258915) on Monday July 23, 2012 @07:36PM (#40743531) Homepage

    This dogma over the last two decades or so has led us right to the edge of record-setting long unemployment and poverty.

    Its hard to unbundle the damage done by off-shoring and automation from the damage done by making markets more "efficient" by buying out and cutting down profitable companies to make them perform better.

    Since we started cutting taxes on investment income and income over $1,000,000 there is less and less incentive to make long-term investments (which defer income, and thus taxation) in favor of short-term high-risk high-yield gambles that get taxed at 15-20%. In the 1950s, the owner of a corporation wouldn't take a $5,000,000 buyout for his company, because that single sale event would be taxed at an effective rate in the high 80-percentile -- thus encourage owners and innovators to retain control, to treat their company itself as the source of wealth through operation, rather than treating the company as a commodity to be liquidated as soon as that made economic sense.

    Its been a long and brutal slide down to a 30% tax rate (easily avoidable down to 15% or lower) and the results speak for themselves. Tax policy and unemployment are inexorably linked.

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