Will Robots Replace Jobs?

In the U.S., analysts, executives and government planners are introduced to a vital question: whether or not American manufacturing is entering a period of renaissance.

The answer is both yes and no. Manufacturing employment has increased modestly in recent months, growing by a total of 201,000 during 2012 and 79,000 in 2013. (2014 has likewise shown gains so far.) There were approximately 12 million people employed in manufacturing in the U.S. as of 2013, growing steadily since the depths of the recent recession, but down dramatically from 19 million in 1980. Much of manufacturing’s recent rebound has been driven by large improvements in the automobile sector, along with strong demand for oil and gas field equipment as well as medical supplies and building materials.

However, advances in factory productivity, including growing investment in robotics, will dampen job creation. In other words, factory output can easily increase faster than factory employment due to growing investment in robotics.

Today, the growing use of robotics as well as the rising wages and other costs in offshore manufacturing centers, particularly China, is fueling intense debate about the future of global manufacturing. Supply chain managers on the corporate side, along with analysts and planners on the government and economic side, are attempting to develop strategies for dealing with these changes on a nation-by-nation basis. To begin with, costs are clearly rising substantially in China, which has long been the world’s manufacturing growth engine. The most important change is the very dynamic situation in wages paid to Chinese factory workers. Wages have been rising steadily, growing 14% on average during 2012 and 12.3% during 2011. For 2013 and 2014, increases are estimated at 10% to 15% per year.

The International Federation of Robotics (IFR) estimated the total, worldwide base of operational industrial robots at the end of 2012 was about 1.5 million. Plunkett Research estimates that this base will expand to approximately 1.8 million by the end of 2014. The global value of industrial robots sold during 2012 was placed by IFR at $8.7 billion. The total value of robotic systems, including software, accessories and engineering, sold during 2014 will total approximately $29 billion, according to Plunkett Research. Industrial robots are selling at a rate of about 162,000 yearly as of 2014.

Robotics are most visible in manufacturing plants, where they can run efficiently 24/7. However, by 2025, we will see wide use of “service” robots in such tasks as hospital and hotel services (cleaning, carrying and communicating), and similar uses in restaurants and retail stores. The likely growth in the minimum wage in the U.S., combined with the growing capabilities and dropping prices of service robots, will foster this trend.

For more data and statistics on the Manufacturing & Robotics industry, see

Plunkett’s Manufacturing & Robotics Industry Almanac 2015 Edition 

699 Pages
ISBN: 978-1-60879-727-1
Price: 349.99
Published Date: September 2014