BY Fredrick Ngugi, 6:50am December 07, 2017,

Are Industrial Robots Good or Bad for Africa’s Budding Economy?

Photo credit: REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

As the African economy continues to grow, the need to adopt more reliable and effective industrial techniques is becoming exceedingly vital as companies strive to improve their return on Investment while downsizing their cost of production. Consequently, this has seen industrial robots take the center stage in facilitating the operation of certain processes that were never thought possible.

Globally, leading economies such as the United States, Japan, and Germany have fully embraced the use of robots in an attempt to reshape their manufacturing industries. Most pundits are of the opinion that robots have improved the ease of doing business due to their attractive cost models. Others argue that the machines have helped to improve the productivity of human workers by aiding them with basic tasks like an assistant.

According to ESTEQ, a leading supplier of engineering simulation solutions in South Africa, leveraging this technology has enabled the use of robots in fields never imagined.

The ‘smart’ robot now makes sense to use for delicate applications, and with the ever-decreasing cost, the ROI of implementing a robotic system keeps improving,” says ESTEQ.

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A Threat to Employment

Traditionally, robots were only utilized in large industrial enterprises like the automotive industries. Equally, they were intended to perform duties that are deemed dangerous or unsuitable for human workers. But nowadays small-to-medium enterprises are slowly adopting the technology in a bid to minimize cost and improve production. It is this massive replacement of skilled manpower that has left many Africans worried about their future employability, given the rising rate of unemployment on the continent.

The World Bank estimates that Africa currently has a regional average of two industrial robots per 100,000 manufacturing workers and warns that the number is bound to rise as more SMEs continue to automate their operations. In essence, more Africans are soon expected to lose their jobs to robots – a situation that experts say is likely to bring a host of serious socio-economic challenges in the already troubled region.

Some African trade unions are already up in arms about robots, but it appears that there is little they can do to stop what experts have termed as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The World Bank further argues that while industrial automation has boosted growth, expanded opportunities, and improved service delivery, its aggregate impact has fallen short in many other aspects and is unevenly distributed.

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For that reason, the bank insists that countries have to also work on the analog complements by strengthening regulations that will guarantee competition among businesses and adapting workers’ skills to the demands of the new economy.

ESTEQ, on the other hand, claims that robots are not meant to replace humans but are instead designed to create better and high paying jobs.

“If companies adopt the notion of up-skilling their workers to be able to perform higher-skilled functions, it could lead to better income as well as job satisfaction for those employees who would have been simply replaced,” ESTEQ says.

The technology giant further contends that robots are programmed, operated and maintained by skilled humans thus improving the human-robot collaboration.

But be that as it may, it is quite obvious that many people are concerned about the disruption caused by robots in various sectors across Africa. Therefore there is need for African legislators to come up with proper guidelines on how companies can adopt new technologies without endangering the survival of their employees.


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Last Edited by:Sandra Appiah Updated: June 19, 2018


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