Almost 90% of all robots currently in use can be found in factories, but that wasn’t the case until recently in China. Even ten years ago, Chinese car manufacturing was very much a manual process, with thousands of workers in a single factory, earning just over $1 per hour. But now, China has embraced the automation revolution.
Ford’s newest assembly facility, located in Hangzhou in east-central China, houses at least 650 robots within its walls. The robots resemble giant, white-necked cranes, and whir away as they perform car assembly tasks that previously would have been done by hand.
Of course, the process isn’t automated 100%. Human workers still perform general maintenance, as well as some of the more complicated welding procedures.
Regardless, the new factory provides an excellent example of two important trends reshaping the world of manufacturing: the Chinese manufacturing transformation and the automation revolution. Already, the world’s largest auto manufacturers have poured billions into China, which now holds the title of the largest auto market in the world. General Motors opened two new, high-tech Cadillac facilities in China recently as well.
For U.S. auto companies like General Motors and Ford, reliance on automation has been driven in large part by rising labor costs at home. In addition, many jobs have been sent overseas to cheaper labor markets like China. However, a multitude of conditions in China — including the one-child policy and a rapid increase in college enrollments — have drastically decreased the number of workers willing to enter the low-wage manufacturing industry.
Around the world, many workers fear that robots will steal their jobs. But Paul Buetow, director of China manufacturing at General Motors, believes otherwise.
“Robots aren’t the threat,” Buetow told the New York Times. “The threat is not being able to run your business with products that people want to buy.”
Automation has become a necessity for those who want to keep up with the competition. As more new car technology goes out to consumers, auto manufacturers are vying for attention with newer, better manufacturing methods. Industrial robots are simply one of them.
Automation is a part of the auto manufacturing process now, and while some companies still hunt for skilled workers, there’s no question that the automation revolution is growing.