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Automation: Robot-Run Factory Specializes in 3-D Custom Printing
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June 26, 2017, 08:20 PM
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Behold: the future of manufacturing is within view! The good news is that it will occur mostly in the United States (and other areas of tech expertise); the bad news is very few human workers will be needed.

 

Yoo hoo, government and captains of industry! No workers means no paychecks and no shoppers. The economy doesn’t work without human people purchasing goods and services. Hasn’t anyone thought about this outcome fail?

And experts prognosticate that the job loss has only begun. Oxford researchers forecast in 2013 that nearly half of American jobs were vulnerable to machine or software replacement within 20 years. Rice University computer scientist Moshe Vardi believes that in 30 years humans will become largely obsolete, and world joblessness will reach 50 percent. The Gartner tech advising company believes that one-third of jobs will be done by machines by 2025. Forrester Research Inc. has a more optimistic view, that there will be a net job loss of 7 percent by 2025 from automation.

And with jobs disappearing ever more rapidly as they fall to robot replacements, it makes no sense to continue immigration as if nothing in the workplace has changed. Not that America needs the current gaggle of 1.5 million low-skilled and unfriendly foreigners in any case. The correct number of immigrant workers in the automated future is Zero.

Today’s example of the brave new jobless world is a nearly worker-free factory. As noted, such places will require some humans, but only those with certain tech skills. Average workers will be out of luck.

This start-up is using robots and 3-D printers to staff a factory with almost no humans, CNBC, June 22, 2017

• Voodoo Manufacturing has a factory in Brooklyn consisting of 160 3-D printers.

• It raised $5 million from General Catalyst to add robots to the factory, and hopes to eliminate most human laborers.

• Clients include Nickelodeon, Microsoft, Mattel, Lowe’s and Yoplait.

Self-driving cars have captivated the world. Now, a Brooklyn-based start-up called Voodoo Manufacturing wants to bring the same autonomy and safety to manufacturing, with a factory that makes 3-D prints of any imaginable design, staffed almost entirely by robots.

Customers upload a design file to Voodoo’s site. The start-up then manufactures their desired items in batches from one to 10,000 units per order. Voodoo’s factory runs 160 different 3-D printers today, rather than using injection molding machines you’d find in a conventional factory.

Most recently, Voodoo began developing robots to run the 3-D printers with little to no human oversight, said CEO and co-founder Max Friefeld.

The robots, which Voodoo assembles from available sensors, arms, grippers and other components, can take a plate out of a printer, put a new one in, then restart it to begin the next job.

These tasks used to be done by people.

The company’s proprietary software controls the way the robots work in conjunction with the printers, and keeps orders running on time.

“At a high level, our goal is to automate the machine-tending portion of our factory, and get to 80 percent utilization of all the hardware here,” Friefeld said. “With a really lean team, we could operate around the clock, with maybe one person working the night shift.”

Today, Voodoo offers only two types of plastics, one flexible and one rigid, in 22 colors. But with these two materials, it makes a wide range of swag, and structural parts that go into consumer electronics and other goods. Clients include Nickelodeon, Microsoft, Mattel, Lowe’s and Yoplait, plus a number of hardware start-ups.

Recently, General Catalyst, the Y Combinator Continuity Fund and other investors poured $5 million in new venture funding into Voodoo Manufacturing. (The new round brings their total to $6.4 million raised to date.)

General Catalyst partner Spencer Lazar said he expects the start-up to use the money to convert its Brooklyn factory into one that is operated mostly by robots. Right now, the factory has just one cluster of 3-D printers run by robots.

Asked if this kind of innovation spells bad news for manufacturing jobs growth, the investor said: “Demand for consumer goods is growing fast enough that jobs could still grow. … But the jobs for people will be about software development, or maintenance and monitoring machines, not so much physical labor.”

U.S. manufacturing work has declined steeply since 2007. However, jobs in manufacturing have been growing slightly since 2012, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Today, some 12.4 million people hold manufacturing jobs domestically.