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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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  • by crazyjj (2598719) * on Monday July 23, 2012 @02:07PM (#40739119)

    or 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.

    These two sentences don't mesh in the way I think you meant them to. The new technologies may allow companies to bring the OPERATIONS back home, but not the JOBS. If anything, they will allow many manufacturing operations still in the U.S. to cut even more jobs (though not send them overseas).

  • Player Piano (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 23, 2012 @02:21PM (#40739329)

    Kurt Vonnegut's Player Piano comes to mind, with all of its meanings and implications.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 23, 2012 @02:24PM (#40739379)

    eliminating the need to work and rising the quality of life

    To get that, you would need a permanent state-provided income for the entire population. And that's very unlikely to happen in the U.S.

    I believe similar concerns were voiced upon the invention of the cotton gin and various farming tractors. And yet, with those inventions, the cost of food has fallen. Even when food is supposed to be expensive, it's not (at least not in the United States). If you can make everything automated enough where it costs pennies to provide food, shelter, water, electricity, etc. Then, no, it does not require "a permanent state-provided income for the entire population." This is progress and any comment otherwise will focus on temporary restructural unemployment. In a single generation that problem will fix itself. Nobody is born today dreaming of the job of picking cotton and separating the seeds from it. Long gone are the fears that the cotton gin will destroy every single job and the entire economy. Soon, your fears will be laughed at in a similar fashion.

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

    by Belial6 (794905) on Monday July 23, 2012 @02:24PM (#40739385)
    This is why at some point we need to accept that as some point in the future most of the population is going to be permanently unemployed. This can either be the dream of a paradise where everyone can live a life of leisure and self fulfillment, or it can be a horror where where the wealthy live in leisure while the teaming masses live in a perpetual state of starvation and poverty. We need to decide which way we will go, and move in that direction.

    We are not there yet for the general population, but we are far enough along that we would likely be better off if we accepted that some segments of our society have reached that point.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 23, 2012 @02:24PM (#40739391)

    The phrase "this will create jobs" should be one of the most terrifying things your elected official will ever say. It usually means one of a few things:

    1) we will have a massive project that will demand a lot of temporary labor who aren't going to receive benefits or permanent employment. Hopefully after it's all over and they're unemployed again they'll all go... well, somewhere else.

    2) we have arranged for fund to dedicate 25 people full time to the goal of making some 300 other people completely unnecessary. We hope to have even more of you laid off some time next year!

    2) we have bribed a large corporation to come in install a new operations center. They won't pay taxes, most of the 200 permanent jobs that it creates will be filled by specifically-skilled people and managers imported from other places, and the remaining permanent jobs that locals can get will be janitorial or security services which are contracted to a low-paying third party. But there's a plus side: all that new money surging into the economy will raise prices (and taxes) on other things, like rent and food! That means more money for your local government. And once all the riff-raff are forced out by higher prices, I'll have a better class of constituent!

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

    by mhajicek (1582795) on Monday July 23, 2012 @02:25PM (#40739395)
    The creative jobs already tend to have far more applicants than positions. In order to be gainfully employed you have to be able to do something better than a robot of comparable expense, which is beyond a growing sector of the population. We're entering an ugly phase of economic reform, between scarcity and abundance. In the old way, the default state was lack, and if you could provide something it had value, and so could be traded for something else of value. In the future there could be abundance, in which case everyone can just take what they want. In between there's the point where there is enough for everyone, but those who have it won't share because (instinctively if not consciously) they're concerned about not having enough in the future. They also won't trade with you because you don't have anything that's of value to them.
  • Re:Goodbye jobs (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Githaron (2462596) on Monday July 23, 2012 @02:32PM (#40739513)
    At first, there will be hardship. Eventually, no one will be doing the jobs that robots can easily do. Unless we find more stuff to do, eventually, the work weeks will shorten while the standard of living will either remain the same or get higher. Of course, 1984 could just happen where all the excess goes into perpetual war rather than the economy.
  • by dcollins (135727) on Monday July 23, 2012 @02:45PM (#40739713) Homepage

    "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."

    So now we can have manufacturing without jobs. Sweet! (But thanks for the disingenuous reference to "jobs" in the first sentence to try and trick people into thinking that this development provides a solution for that.)

    Frankly, the only answer to advancing intellectual property and automation is socialism.

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

    by v1 (525388) on Monday July 23, 2012 @03:00PM (#40739959) Homepage Journal

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

    I believe you're severely over-estimating the number of such jobs in china. If you put every line worker in china out of a job and tried to get them something else higher-end to do, I don't think you could find enough employment in the world.

    But I think that's one of the reasons China is trying to slow down their population explosion. They know there's simply not going to be as many jobs in the future as there are now. All those people either have to have work or have to be state-supported. Communist governments like China are supposed to, in theory, spread the wealth, but there's usually not enough to take good care of everyone.

    This only works in the middle east, and only for a limited time, due to the vast amount the countries there are raking in from the world for their oil. A lot of their people don't have to work, or don't have to work hard. China's main export is "cheap stuff for the rest of the world" So although they have very high volume, the actual amount is a lot lower than you might think just due to the low cost demanded by the wholesalers like wallymart. (and they are sooo screwed when that oil runs out, although if they have half a brain and save a lot and invest seriously in their country as we're seeing them do now, they'll at least have a golden parachute)

    THIS is the only reasonable explanation for why manufacturers in China are saying that labor is expensive there. It's not. It's dirt cheap. But so is the product they are selling. The bottom line is that China as a country isn't bringing in enough money to provide good quality of living for its huge population. As long as they continue to specialize in supercheap export products and have a large population, this just can't change.

    All that's going to happen through automation is that walmart's prices might fall a nickel and a cityfull of people in china will hit the unemployment list. And it's hard to say who's to blame. Do you blame the consumer for not "buying responsibly", when they're just trying to stretch their paycheck and provide the best life possible for their family? Do you blame the retailer for not carrying only higher quality products, when they are better able to fulfill their responsibility to their shareholders by maximizing profit and volume? Do you blame the manufacturer in China for automating so they can shave a little off the cost of manufacture because their wholesaler is threatening to buy from another source? Or do you blame China for having a large enough population to allow manufacturers there to lowball the salary because they will still get all the warm bodies they need?

    China realizes all this. They can't control the world's consumers. They can't control the world's retailers. If they try to interfere with their local manufacturing it will cause them to fail. So they do the only thing they can, and encourage the population to have only one child. China's doing the only thing that really anyone in this entire process can to try to improve it. Increased automation is just going to make matters worse for China IMHO. It's going to drive the price of labor even further down just when the country is trying to prop it UP. This isn't a simple little issue, it's a part of a tightly interwoven issues, and is impossible to fix by looking at only one part of it.

    The immediate effect of increased automation will be a drop in the cost of labor in China, resulting in higher unemployment, heavier burden on state social services, and a drop in prices from OTHER manufacturers that didn't automate, because now labor is cheaper. The people of China are the first losers. We over here in Europe and America probably won't notice much of a difference for awhile, and I don't see any clear idea of how it will affect us in the long term. Prices in world markets are based on supply-and-demand when supply is low. But

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

    by Genda (560240) <mariet&got,net> on Monday July 23, 2012 @03:14PM (#40740171) Journal

    Automation will ultimately replace everyone... there will be no job a robot can't do better, faster, more accurately and more repeatably, than a human being. AI will replace people in thinking jobs, and cheap mechanical muscle will replace people everywhere else (DARPA is investing in the next generation of robots as we speak.)

    The benefit of all this amazingly powerful and inexpensive labor COULD go to the general population, who could be issues stock at birth, whose growing dividends would keep them in flat screen TVs and hot dogs until dotage, while those few creative folks who wanted more could create art which the rest would consume and so they could afford life extension and beach front homes. That would be the hope, the utopian plan.

    Perhaps you've been in coma for the last 30 years... In simple fact, the United States has the largest "Poor Population" since 1965 (the date of the invention of the social security net) and the number is growing fast. You can check it out for yourself over on Google News, its one of today's headlines. The wealth has all been shoved into the vanishingly small ultra-ultra-rich, and the middle class is falling off the table. The advent of displaced work, through exploding automation means the incredible wealth generated will make the already obscenely wealthy godlike, and the rest of us should get ready for that Ethiopian Diet, I here its gonna be the new craze in the Midwest... sporting about a 100 lbs of ugly fast food lard? We can fix that real fast. No soup for you!

    I think bankers are now referring to the 99% as "The Expendables". All the new crowd control technology, the use of remote controlled and robotic drones. Buying at Target is quick gaining a new and dark meaning. My friends, we wrest back the helm of state, or we suffer what comes next, all indications so far suggest the people pushing the buttons are neither compassionate nor skilled at sharing. To hell with Skynet, its the Richnet that makes my hinny pucker.

  • by DM9290 (797337) on Monday July 23, 2012 @03:59PM (#40740871) Journal

    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.

    Why pay them to build useless brick pyramids? I could just as easily pay them to learn how to draw, eat nutritiously, write poetry, appreciate the wonders of the universe, and socialize with their friends. I could pay them to have a happy life. Oh wait.. that would be socialism.

    fuck it. let them starve to death.

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

    by Genda (560240) <mariet&got,net> on Monday July 23, 2012 @04:32PM (#40741369) Journal

    You don't know what you're talking about. A robot recently had its concerto performed to a large public gathering. In the very new future, most of the news articles you read will be written by robots. There are scientist busily working at how human being functions at the cellular level in their brains and are busy building machines to duplicate that behavior. We will all to soon be dealing with a whole raft of machines that pass the Turing Test on all levels.

    There isn't a job that human beings currently do, that a machine in 20 - 40 years won't do better. That's all jobs that human beings can do. The only human beings who will compete with those machines will be people who are so heavily augmented, that calling them human will be a serious semantic contortion. I wish this were science fiction, but you don't even have to dig, to see the research in all these areas is very well along indeed, and just like the genome project that they first predicted would take a 1000 years, got completed in 6, and can now be done in a day, the distance from here to there is shockingly short. You my friend are not even vaguely prepared for whats coming. The truly pitiful part, is that you have so much company.

  • by hherb (229558) <horst@nOspAm.dorrigomedical.com> on Monday July 23, 2012 @07:12PM (#40743311) Homepage

    "The world’s most advanced car, the Tesla Roadster,..." .... really? I guess you both understand bugger all about cars and never left the USA.
    To begin with, most of the Tesla is based on the European Lotus Elise, only the electrical drive train comes from the USA. Admittedly a very good one, but the car as a whole is nowhere near as advanced as let's say the BMW 750 LI compared to which the Tesla looks a bit primitive, and yet they are even in the same price class. Throw more money at your car, and the Europeans and Japanese both have even far more advanced options to that. The US has remain a backwater of car development for the past 2 decades, and is only getting worse.

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

    by Smidge204 (605297) on Monday July 23, 2012 @08:19PM (#40743905) Journal

    No point in repeating what is actually wrong in one way or another.

    Want a solid "full strength" metal part from a 3D printer? Either use a 3D printed substrate and infuse it with molten metal as a post-process (sintering method) or use the 3D printed object as a lost-material positive mold blank. Besides, if you want monolithic metal objects 3D printing is not the way to go [youtube.com].

    As for full strength plastic parts? 3D printers can actually produce parts stronger than injection molded parts in some situations, since printed parts from an extrusion machine have a "grain" structure not completely unlike wood. Sintering methods can produce parts as strong as any molded resin part since that's what they use as binder and/or filler.

    As for the machine fucking up - humans fuck up far more often. A machine fucking up is usually due to a faulty human in the process chain somewhere. It's also a lot harder to repair a damaged human...
    =Smidge=

It is much easier to suggest solutions when you know nothing about the problem.

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