The field of robotics has been growing tremendously over the last three decades, as occasioned by the technological revolution of the late 20th century. The integration of robotics into the manufacturing process has changed the traditional way of production in many aspects.
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Currently, the cost of doing business is going up due to different aspects like policies raising the minimum wage, and as such, employing people is becoming expensive for companies to remain afloat in a competitive business environment. Consequently, the manufacturing industry is turning to technology to cut production and operational costs, hence the emergence of the use of robots in contemporary times. The incorporation of robotics in manufacturing has social, ethical, and economic implications, as discussed in this paper.
Social and ethical implications
One of the social issues arising from the use of robotics in the workplace is the human replacement problem. Employees will lose jobs to robots. In a manufacturing company, most of the labor requirements are in the production lines, and replacing such a huge number of workers will have negative socioeconomic implications. Additionally, companies will only hire people with specific skills to complement robots. Ethically, the safety of the human workforce operating together with robots is not assured. Cases have been reported where robots have caused bodily harm or even death to workers, thus raising ethical concerns (West, 2015).
Another issue will be the need for human workers to collaborate with robots. People may not trust robots to execute certain functions, and working in an environment defined with distrust may be unethical. For instance, intelligent robots may defy or change instructions when executing tasks. In such a case, it would be unethical to blame the human workers involved in the system. Finally, robots can start collecting human data directly or indirectly as part of system performance (Zhang, 2017). Therefore, it is not known what may happen in a case where intelligent robots collect human data and share it with other robots, which is a serious ethical issue.
As mentioned earlier, one of the factors driving up the cost of doing business in the manufacturing sector is the ever-increasing cost of hiring human resources. Robots decrease the cost of production by ensuring increased throughput speeds. Additionally, this technology ensures lean manufacturing lines, which are essential in increasing efficiency. Robots also ensure minimal wastage of raw materials due to the precision with which they execute tasks.
Ultimately, the cost of production goes down, thus allowing companies to price their goods competitively in the market. Consequently, a manufacturing firm can attract more customers, which translates into improved sales and profitability. Robots also increase safety in the workplace, and thus companies will not dedicate huge resources to ensuring workers’ safety in the production lines. Such resources could be used in research and development to ensure that organizations remain competitive in the market.
The initial costs of integrating robotics into manufacturing are prohibitive. Therefore, small businesses with limited financial resources may not be in a position to automate their production lines. Additionally, the cost of maintaining robots is also high, which may discourage companies from pursuing this technology. One of the greatest risks of having robots in the workplace is the possibility of a data breach. External parties like hackers can access the system and compromise data with far-reaching economic outcomes.
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For instance, some companies use propriety technologies in manufacturing, and that information can be stolen and used by competitors. Ultimately, the affected company may lose its competitive advantage. Additionally, robots may be compromised, which may lead to the making of poor products, and before the problem is noted, a company may have made huge losses. Finally, robotics reduces flexibility in the production lines, and given that the business environment keeps on changing, companies might be disadvantaged if they want to alter the system in the future.
The perspective of a Small Enterprise
An enterprise with 20 or fewer employees may not require robotics in the workplace. In most cases, such enterprises do not have the financial resources to incorporate robots into their manufacturing processes. Therefore, small enterprises may not feel the need to replace their workforce with robots. However, it is important to note that financial constraints are the only restricting factors in this case. As such, if acquiring and incorporating robotics in the workplace becomes cheaper in the future, such enterprises may reconsider their current stand on the issue. The benefits of robotics outweigh the associated risks, and given that the primary goal of any business is to make profits, even small businesses would not like to be left out of this revolutionary technology.
The perspective of a Large Enterprise
Large enterprises have the financial resources to integrate robots into their manufacturing processes. Therefore, such companies are receptive to the idea of replacing the human workforce with robots. For instance, companies in the US have been outsourcing manufacturing to China and other countries where the costs of production are low. While outsourcing is cost-efficient, companies may not be in a position to ascertain the quality of their products. Therefore, given that robots reduce the cost of production, companies in the US would rather incorporate the technology in their workplaces and take control of their manufacturing process.
Effects on management, employees, and stakeholders
The management of different companies is concerned with maximizing returns. In most cases, managers would rather adopt robots than have human workers. On the other hand, employees are the most affected group due to loss of jobs. If companies integrate robots into the workplace, there will be layoffs, and future employment opportunities will be limited (Executive Office of the President, 2016). The few employees working alongside robots will be required to undergo training to adapt to the new work environment.
However, shareholders will enjoy better returns for their investments as companies will be more profitable using robotics instead of the human workforce. Other stakeholders like governments will have to come up with policies to regulate the usage of robots in the workplace. Governments will be forced to approach the issue carefully to strike a balance on issues concerning robotics. On the one hand, if companies are making more money, it means that government revenues increase. On the other side, increasing rates of unemployment will be a problem for the government.
The use of robotics in the manufacturing industry has numerous economic benefits. However, people will lose jobs to robots, thus increasing unemployment rates. This aspect will have adverse socioeconomic effects. Similarly, robots will come with several ethical issues, including causing harm to workers and collecting human data. Currently, small enterprises do not have the financial resources to acquire robots, but large companies are accepting this technology.
Executive Office of the President. (2016). Artificial intelligence, automation, and the economy. Web.
West, D. (2015). What happens if robots take the jobs? The impact of emerging technologies on employment and public policy. Center for Technology Innovation at Brookings. Web.
Zhang, N. (2017). Preparing for the future of artificial intelligence. SciPol. Web.