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Manufacturing the End of Labor: Automation, Unemployment, and Society

Source |  |  BY:Digital Analyst at Accenture

*Click* A car door shuts; a repairman walks up to a factory door. A card key swipes; the repairman squints. Then he pulls out a flashlight — the only light bulb in the entire factory. He references his order number, then walks past aisle after aisle of machines whirling about. Finally he finds what he is looking for, a robot out of commission. The repairman sets down his toolkit and begins fixing the machine. In the darkness around him there are no other people. In fact, there has not been a human being there for the past 30 days. This is the present, year 2030.

Does this scenario sound far-fetched? Well, a factory such as this has existed since 2001. Japanese robotics firm FANUC has factories where machines build replicas of themselves. These factories “can run unsupervised for as long as 30 days at a time” without lights or air-conditioning and heating turned on. This is dubbed lights-out manufacturing.


For an example closer to home, consider America’s largest grocer: C&S Wholesale Grocers. Never heard of it? Sounds about right. They live behind the scenes, but provide groceries to the likes of Target, Kroger, Safeway, and 6,500 other retailers. C&S hasn’t obtained lights-out status yet, but they are moving in that direction with subsidiary Symbotic. The company is disrupting the food distribution industry through its use of fully autonomous warehouse robots. At a Target facility only 6 people monitor the factory at a given time. That’s it.


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