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Labor shortages and rising wages are pushing American companies to invest in automation. A recent Federal Reserve survey of CFOs found that in companies struggling to hire, a third are implementing or exploring automation to replace workers. In earnings calls last month, executives from a variety of businesses confirmed the trend.
Domino’s Pizza Inc. is “putting equipment and technology in place that reduces the amount of labor required to produce our dumplings,” said CEO Ritch Allison.
Mark Coffey, group vice president at Hormel Foods Corp., said the maker of Spam spread and Skippy peanut butter is “increasing our investments in automation” due to “labor shortages.”
The mechanization of mundane tasks has been going on for generations. It has made remarkable progress in the last decade: The number of industrial robots installed in the world’s factories more than doubled in that time, to about 3 million. Automation has also spread to service companies.
The United States has lagged behind other economies, especially Asian ones, but the pandemic could cause some to catch up. With about 10.4 million job openings in August and a record number of Americans quitting their jobs, the difficulty of finding staff is adding new incentives.
Ametek Inc. manufactures automation equipment for industrial companies, such as motion trackers used from steel mills and sawmills to packaging systems. Chief Executive Officer David A. Zapico says part of the company is “going full blast.” That’s because “people want to remove labor from processes,” he said on an earnings call. “In some places, you can’t hire labor.”
Unions have long viewed automation as a threat. In US ports, which lag behind their global peers in technology and are currently at the center of a major supply chain crisis, the International Longshoremen’s Association is committed to fighting it.
Companies that say they want automate “They have one goal in mind: to eliminate their job and put more money in their pockets,” ILA President Harold Daggett said in a video message at a June conference. “We are going to fight this for 100 years.”
Some economists have warned that automation could worsen America’s income and wealth gaps.
“If it continues, labor demand will grow slowly, inequality will increase, and the outlook for many low-educated workers will not be very good,” says Daron Acemoglu, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who testified in a Senate Wednesday. audience on the subject.
That’s not an inevitable outcome, Acemoglu says: Scientific knowledge could be used “to develop technologies that are more complementary for workers.” But, with research largely dominated by a handful of giant companies spending the most money on it, “this is not the direction that technology is currently going.”
Knightscope makes security robots that look a bit like R2-D2 from Star Wars and can patrol places like factory perimeters. The company says it is attracting new clients who are having trouble hiring workers to monitor. Its robots cost between $ 3.50 and $ 7.50 an hour, according to customer director Stacy Stephens, and can be installed one month after signing a contract.
A new customer is Los Angeles International Airport, one of the busiest in the United States. Soon, Knightscope robots will be monitoring some of your parking lots.
They are “complementing what we have in place and are not replacing any human services,” said Heath Montgomery, the airport’s director of public relations. “It’s another way we deliver exceptional guest experiences.”