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April 28, 2020

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Robots and humans are integrating

Factories operated by robots are among the 12 key sectors of the Shanghai government’s plan to promote development of the digital economy.

The plan proposes to build more than 100 “unmanned” factories, production lines and workshops in Shanghai, focusing on new manufacturing modes such as advanced manufacturing, cloud manufacturing and shared manufacturing.

The business model already existed before the COVID-19 pandemic, but its importance and potential starkly came into focus during a period when workers were in short supply.

Unmanned factories don’t mean the entire elimination of human workers, but rather the use of robots in dangerous, repetitive, dirty or risky jobs, freeing humans to focus on more creative, rewarding and decision-making tasks.

Swedish robotics and electronic equipment company ABB, a giant in industrial automation, said in a written interview that the factory of the future will be highly automated and operate in a way that taps the advantages of both humans and robots.

Smart manufacturing is the purpose of building so-called unmanned factories, said Xiao Weirong, head of B&R China, an arm of the Austrian-based B&R Industrial Automation, but such factories cannot operate without human input.

“The coexistence of humans and machines is the basis for industrial automation,” He explained. “Smart manufacturing means humans and machines cooperating harmoniously.”

In plain words, that means humans doing things suitable for humans and machines doing things suitable for machines.

For example, at ABB’s robotics factory in the Shanghai suburb of Kangqiao is one of the world’s largest, most advanced factories, where robots make robots.

It still has a workforce of humans involved in some manufacturing elements, research and development, and technical support.

Not only will the factory need people, but those people will have work that is more challenging and less tedious and strenuous.


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