The robots are coming: Adidas, Foxconn, McDonalds eye automation
Former McDonalds CEO: Robots are ‘going to cause a job loss across this country like you’re not going to believe’
The use of robots in manufacturing and other types of industry is not a new phenomenon, but, with advances in technology, the current tide of automation has ushered in what many are calling the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
To get an idea of the scale and prevalence of robots performing tasks previously left to humans, let’s look at a few examples.
Athletic shoe and gear manufacturer Adidas in 2017 is poised to ramp up full production at its German “Speedfactory,” located in the Bavarian town of Ansbach. Plans call to replicate the production facility design at locations in Western Europe and the United States.
While dependent on largely automated processes performed by high-tech robots, there are still humans involved in the production, and Adidas says it’s not looking to replace its carbon-based workforce.
Adidas Group Senior Director of Corporate Communications Katja Schreiber told Fortune, “Our goal is not full automation. There are highly skilled employees working in these facilities.” The goal, Schreiber said, is to bring production closer to consumers to speed a new product’s time-to-market.
“The current model in our industry is very much based on us sourcing products from countries where our consumers are typically not based. By the time the consumer gets the products, the actual order placed by the retail partner was many months ago. We’re trying to bring our products closer to where our consumer is, cutting out the phase where the product needs to be transported. Ideally retailers will be able to place orders based on current trends, and we won’t need to keep huge warehouses of products just in case.”
The Germany government is leading a nationwide initiative meant to drive adoption of automated manufacturing called Industrie 4.0.
In Taiwan, electronics manufacturing giant Foxconn replaced some 60,000 jobs with robots. While that’s a huge reduction in workforce, Foxconn still employees well more than 1 million people.
According to a company statement: “We are applying robotics engineering and other innovative manufacturing technologies to replace repetitive tasks previously done by employees, and through training, also enable our employees to focus on higher value-added elements in the manufacturing process, such as research and development, process control and quality control. We will continue to harness automation and manpower in our manufacturing operations, and we expect to maintain our significant workforce in China.”
In a bit of a different application, a former McDonalds CEO made waves recently when he said robots could readily replace human workers in the large-scale food service business.
Former CEO Ed Rensi is widely quoted as saying: “If you look at the robotic devices that are coming into the restaurant industry…It’s cheaper to buy a $35,000 robotic arm than it is to hire an employee who’s inefficient making $15 an hour bagging French fries. It’s going to cause a job loss across this country like you’re not going to believe.”