In the United States, automation is feared because it could result in job losses. In car manufacturing plants in China, robots are also becoming more and more prevalent. But because the demand for cars is currently so high there, the automation isn’t seen as a threat but more as a supplement.
The New York Times reported the ultra-modern Ford plant in Hangzhou and Cadillac plants in Wuhan and Shanghai are utilizing robots for jobs that less than a decade ago were once handled by humans. As China is looking to move up the manufacturing chain, these robots have become crucial in things like production cost.
From the story:
Blue-collar wages have soared because multinational companies have moved much of their production to China even as its labor force is rapidly changing. The combination of the one-child policy, which cut the birth rate through the 1980s and ’90s, and an eightfold increase in college enrollments has cut by more than half the number of people entering the work force each year who have less than a high school degree and may be willing to consider factory work.
Blue-collar wages are now $4 to $6 an hour in large, prosperous cities, though still far lower than in the United States.
In Ford’s Hangzhou plant, robots weld and paint; however, the sealant is still applied by workers because Ford wants to make sure the robots can perform this step well before handing it over to them.
The Times story notes that although Ford uses 650 robots at their plant, the company also employs 2,800 workers. As long as cars remain in high demand in China, robots will be a necessity. Labor isn’t as cheap in China as it used to be. Shifting labor to southeast Asian countries like Vietnam has become a trend. Automation is merely the next step.