November 2017 issue: Mobile machines in extreme enviroments + more

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Will automation make too many jobs irrelevant?

At the National Fluid Power Association’s recent Industry and Economic Outlook Conference in suburban Chicago, Kevin Surace of Appvance spoke about the amazing disruptions that technology will play in our lives over the coming decades. The future is both scary and amazing, but we have to prepare ourselves and our businesses for it. Disruptions thanks to everything from automated vehicles to artifi-cial intelligence will mean many of the jobs of today will vanish. And automation will continue to play a role, as well.

So much of our psyche is embroiled in our jobs. What’s the first thing you do when you meet a new person? You ask their name, followed quickly by, “What do you do?”

Surace says that by 2050, 80% of all of today’s tasks will be automated. Automa-tion has been slowly taking away the routine occupations and bringing in more non-routine occupations. That’s because the non-routine ones are harder to automate, while the routine ones are easier to automate. It’s happened from windmills to industrial robots to ATM machines.

“Technology is driving down costs, and has been driving down costs for a long time,” Surace said. “But once we had the advent of the smartphone, we began to drive down costs of certain key components like we’ve never seen before—because all of a sudden, there was a consumer product that would sell over a billion units. Those numbers are staggering. We’ve never had a consumer product that sold to two billion people. Many consumer products would sell a million or two million pieces a year, which was big—like a clock radio—but nobody ever had something like this. Hence, the cost drivers to drive down certain items has been remarkable.”

This type of pressure to cheapen and shrink key components is evident in gyro-scopes. 70 years ago, they were large, bulky objects the size of a microwave. Today, they can sit on top of a quarter and likely cost less than the quarter itself.
But he sees a bright side, too—especially for our industry.

“The expansion of robotics really equals an unprecedented expansion of hy-draulics and pneumatics,” he said. “Here, we’ve got all this on-shoring happening. We’ve got everything that we’re doing in AI and robotics and automation, and none of that happens without [fluid power] technologies. None of it.”

Paul HeneySurace said that as we get smarter robots—and they can do more things—then there’s additional opportunities for hydraulics and pneumatics to be doing each step.

“This is an incredible time,” he said, “And if I were in your industry, I’d be so excited.”

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