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How the robot revolution can lead to job growth

A robotic assembly line in a Russian factory. Photo: Donat Sorokin/TASS via Getty Images

"Automation is leading to job growth in certain industries where machines take on repetitive tasks, freeing humans for more creative duties," The Wall Street Journal's William Wilkes reports.

The big question: "In which industries does automation help both employer and employee?"

The quick answer: "The companies that may have cracked the code are those that can assign repetitive, precise tasks to robots, freeing human workers to undertake creative, problem-solving duties that machines aren’t very good at."

  • Where it works: "manufacturing, the food sector and service sectors such as billing, where timetable spreadsheets can be automated, freeing up workers to do higher-value tasks."
  • "With demand for [auto parts manufacturer] Bosch ... steering controls high, the company has used automation to increase its output, leading it to hire more people to perform" tests and inspections: “We looked for 20,000 new hires last year."

A great case study ... "BMW ... automated some of the physical labor at the Spartanburg plant in South Carolina while retaining tasks involving judgment and quality control for workers":

  • "Since BMW introduced this and other automated processes over the past decade, it has more than doubled its annual car production at Spartanburg to more than 400,000."
  • "The workforce has risen from 4,200 workers to 10,000, and they handle vastly more complex autos — cars that once had 3,000 parts now have 15,000."
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