Monday, June 4, 2012

Chinese Factories Develop New Robots to Drive Manufacturing without Replacing Workers

BAODING, China (Bennington Vale Evening Transcript) -- Part of China's recent growth strategy involves making inroads to highly competitive markets it has not previously entered. The global automotive industry -- dominated by Europe, the United States, Japan, and to some extent Korea -- has been one particular market in which the quality gap is glaringly apparent. But now China wants to emerge as a contender among known heavyweights by offering more than the provision of cheap assembly line labor. "To beat those competitors, we have no choice but to use a higher level of equipment and technology," one engineering company CEO said. It's not just global automakers China wants to take on. From microchip foundries to medical equipment and jet engines, Chinese companies are using their resources and wealth to upgrade their products on an unparalleled scale. To do so, the industrial sector has begun relying more on machines and robots. But as a country still clinging to its socialist roots, China promises that its robots will retain a "human" touch and will not put existing workers out of jobs.

The army of cheap laborers that once made China a manufacturing juggernaut is neither as abundant nor inexpensive as in times past. Robots, however, do not come cheap. A factory floor automaton can cost up to $4 million Japanese yen. Additional costs associated with downtime, maintenance, and upgrades must also be considered. Chinese factory owners say they have constructed units that embody the best of both worlds.

Bai Bao Rui, general manager of a startup firm that develops turbines, said: "Robots can outperform human workers without complaining about breaks, sleep, food, injuries, or basic human rights. But they cost more to maintain and lack the sentience and decision making abilities of their human counterparts. So we made cyborgs."

The new Chinese robots do not eliminate traditional workers -- in fact, the same preteen kids that have always toiled away on factory floors remain, but encased in protective steel suits with microchip implants and psychological conditioning. The implants effectively suppress the desire centers of their brains, while the mental reconditioning helps them stay focused on tasks by eliminating all other emotional distractions or physiological needs. The steel suits give the workers the appearance of advanced robots but also protect them from hazards that would originally have hindered their job performance. The cost per day per robot ($2.50 USD) is only slightly higher than the cost per day for a child laborer ($1.85 USD). But with the increases in productivity and time, the benefits are immeasurable.

Sources inside the United States say that they have been experimenting with similar advances, but will not be able to produce a prototype until Mitt Romney becomes president and removes key obstacles in current employment regulations.

(c) 2012. See disclaimers.