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Editor’s Note: Cobots Driving Innovation and Growth

Q4 2016
According to the Brookings Institution’s annual report — America’s Advanced Industries: New Trends — digitization is pervading all fields of industry. Robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), advanced materials, and other technologies are helping “the advanced industries sector…at once develop and utilize the nation’s transformative technologies,” says Mark Muro, senior fellow and director of policy for the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings.

PwC’s Industry 4.0 survey of 2,000 participants from nine major industrial sectors and 26 countries also takes a look at digitization of industrial manufacturing. Among its findings, robotics, cobotics, 3D printing, and nanotechnology have direct relevance for many industrial manufacturing applications, while other technologies — such as augmented reality — can enable manufacturers to give customers real-time information and training at point of use.

The implications of these findings are explored in this issue of Area Development magazine. Stephen Gray, president and CEO of Gray Construction, explains how advanced technologies and robotics are shaping the future of manufacturing making factories more efficient and productive than ever. However, because of the complexity of many of today’s processes, human workers are complemented — not replaced — by their robotic counterparts, says Gray.

Stephen Thompson, senior economic office at Ontario’s Ministry of International Trade concurs. Advancements in the robotics industry are reshaping the way humans and machines interact. These “cobots” augment the complex and intelligent work done solely by humans, Thompson notes. Additionally, a human-machine study conducted by MIT researchers at a BMW factory has shown that teams made of humans and robots collaborating efficiently can be more productive than teams made of either humans or robots alone.

Consequently, the ability to source skilled labor is still a primary concern for growing companies. In fact, availability of skilled labor was the number-one site factor considered by those responding to Area Development’s annual Corporate Survey. This factor, along with all the top-10 location factors, is explored in a special report in this issue.

We will delve more into the concerns of workforce availability and skills when we produce our Workforce supplement at year’s end. Highly regarded consultants to industry will discuss workforce trends driving location strategies, how to assess a community’s labor force, attracting the millennials, upskilling your current workforce, and more. Ultimately, it’s the skilled workers who will allow manufacturers to continue to innovate and grow their businesses.

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