BY ELAINE POFELDT
bots aren’t just for corporate Goliaths — now even the little guy on Main Street is adopting them. The goal: to boost sales and productivity. But at what cost?
Take Sam Kraus, a Hungarian immigrant who founded what became Skyline Windows in 1921. In the early days, the tinsmith traveled around with a small cart to do his roofing and waterproofing work by hand.
Fast-forward to today, and the fourth-generation business based in New York City’s South Bronx has left the pushcart era far behind. Skyline, which has evolved into a custom window manufacturer and installer, now relies on robots to do some of its work. In the factory in Woodridge, New Jersey, where it makes its windows, Skyline uses a $150,000 computer-operated machine to automate tasks like cutting holes in the metal and two $20,000 robots to install its windows, which sometimes weigh 600 pounds.
“It allows us to be more efficient—and our plan is to buy more of these robots when we can,” said senior vice president Matt Kraus, whose profitable firm brings in about $70 million in annual revenue and employs about 350 people.
Kraus is one of many entrepreneurs who are discovering that robots can be a powerful tool for growing a small company—even one with its roots in an old-line business. In the manufacturing industry, a recent study by Boston Consulting Group found that by 2025 robots will do about 25 percent of all industrial tasks—and that inexpensive robots are becoming increasingly available to smaller companies. Robotics are also making it possible for more individuals to start businesses in industries where the need for a substantial labor force once posed a big barrier to entry.
“Automation is having a big impact,” said Martin Ford, author of “Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future,” due to be published May 5. “It’s both positive and negative.”
3-D printing is one example. Some tiny firms are already using 3-D printers to make prototypes and even manufacturing products on their own, Ford said. Others are sending their prototypes to China, where they make the products. That makes it easier for business owners to fatten their bottom line, but the flip side will be a decline in traditional jobs.
The future of jobs
“Businesses will need to hire no people or fewer people,” he said. “You can literally have one person start a manufacturing business.”
A decline in traditional jobs could lead to shrinking markets for small businesses, said Ford. “We need consumers out there who will buy what is created by the economy,” he said.
Courtesy: NBC News
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