Industrial Robotics / Changing Workforce

Learning to love our robot co-workers

By Kim Tingley for The New York Times Magazine

Feb 23, 2017

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The robots were Joe McGillivray’s idea. The first one arrived at Dynamic Group in Ramsey, Minn., by pickup truck in two cardboard boxes. With a mixture of excitement and trepidation, McGillivray watched as a vendor unpacked two silver tubes, assorted blue-and-gray joints and a touch screen and put them all together. When he was finished 10 minutes later, McGillivray beheld an arm that, had its segments not all been able to swivel 360 degrees, might have belonged to a very large N.B.A. player or a fairly small giant.

McGillivray is the 38-year-old chief executive of Dynamic, a maker of molds for the mass production of small plastic and metal parts, from 3M Scotch-tape dispensers to bullets. As the manufacturing landscape changed in the company's 40 years in business, thanks largely to the skill of Dynamic’s machinists, the company did more than survive; it prospered. Then came the Great Recession. For the first time, McGillivray and Kalina, once able to offer bonuses, struggled to make payroll. To keep going, they needed to produce more molds or cut costs, or both.

It wasn’t the robot’s speed that was revolutionary, McGillivray said; other automated machines could do the same things faster. The innovation was its “collaborative” ability: This robot is safe to work with.

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