(Photo Credit: Rodon Group)
Meet Baxter. He belongs to Pennsylvania manufacturer Rodon Group. He has six facial expressions (the better to express confusion on the manufacturing line, for example) and a willingness to do repetitive work that would drive most people to tears. He cost his employers $22,000 at the outset and about $3 an hour in operating costs.
"He doesn't necessarily replace anyone," factory VP Lowell Allen tells CBS News. "In fact, we need to hire skilled people to maintain and program those pieces of equipment. They just enable jobs to be performed more efficiently and therefore less expensively."
Baxter could also possibly guard worker safety. Rodon Group notes in a press release that he doesn't require safety enclosures or special equipment, and that he can be taught new tasks in as little as ten minutes.
But more persuasively for people, Baxter might enable what's being called reshoring -- the movement of jobs from China back to the U.S. And because Baxter works with human operators, instead of replacing them, he's part of a collaborative automation process that could remove the dull and dangerous aspects of manufacturing jobs without edging out human labor.
"So what we're seeing now is companies bring jobs back to the U.S," Hal Sirkin of Boston Consulting Group tells CBS News. "Not just because of patriotism but because of pure economics. The wages are rising in China, the U.S. is getting more competitive. The average American worker is at least three times as productive as the average Chinese worker."
Automation, he says, is part of that process.
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