The COVID-19 pandemic has affected economic activity almost worldwide. Various factories and warehouses are forced to close to protect their workers. Could a more automated workforce have eased the economic damage caused by COVID-19? The International Federation of Robotics has reported that the cost of robots has fallen in 2019 and continues to fall, allowing them to be widely adopted. In South Korea, there are 7 robots for every 100 workers, while every 3rd robot installed is in China. In 2019, a report by Oxford Economics predicted that 12.5 million manufacturing jobs will be automated in China alone by 2030. After the COVID-19 pandemic, there could be even more.
Before the pandemic began, frightening and alarming headlines immediately amplified the predictions that many jobs would be lost. Now that many jobs are being lost, the question is how can industrial automation speed up recovery and protect us from future pandemics?
The World Economic Forum (WEF) has estimated that emerging occupations due to automation could account for 6.1 million jobs worldwide between 2020 and 2022. We do not yet know how COVID-19 will affect long-term employment, but it is safe to assume that automation will accelerate where people and consumers are safer.
Logistics automation protects warehousemen and couriers. Robots constantly cleaning hospitals protect health workers. Digital payments prevent the exchange of cash, which is important for those in retail.
At the end of February, China alone purchased 2,000 robots in Denmark that can autonomously disinfect and kill viruses and bacteria using ultraviolet light, effectively limiting the spread of coronaviruses and the possibility of infecting hospital staff.
Amazon had a partially automated parcel sorting centre in Washington. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic created a need for greater automation to ensure greater security for employees and customers, while minimising the number of potential contacts.
In the public domain, we see many reports that companies that have invested in robotic and fully automated production can continue their operations without risking the safety of their employees. The crisis caused by COVID-19 has revealed even greater benefits of industrial automation.