Can robots substitute man power? This question is being addressed more and more as time goes by. It is widely known that new work conditions imply that the standardization and simplification of the value chain require a more extended use of machineries and robots. One the one hand, there is the process of automation to be taken into account, which started in 1947 when General Motors ideated a department just for this sector; such process implies the overview of control systems on production processes, machineries, etc. with the minimum level of human intervention. On the other hand, the improvements in the scientific and technological sectors are increasing the range of “abilities” of the robots, with the aim of making them more and more similar to human beings at the working place.

What is important to understand first is that such processes have been put in practice because they allow many advantages to almost any kind of firm, not only because they guarantee an increase in the economies of scale, but also because they permit to foresee the quality of the finite product, they reduce errors but, most of all, guarantee higher profits for the firm through the decreased labour. Such advantages, however, are to be seen by the point of view of the producer, but consumers may not agree sometimes.

The first objection that comes natural is essentially based on the fact that the quality of the product might even be foreseeable but not better with respect to that of the hand-made products. It is not a case, indeed that most of us nowadays are complaining about the reduced qualities of the products that are offered by the market, and this is taking place especially in those countries that are less advanced. In countries such as the US or Britain such problem might not arouse, but in other ones such as Italy and Spain such consideration this is something that might also have to do with the culture and tradition of a country and so it might turn in practice into a decrease in demand from customers.

What’s more, it seems that this is not only a matter of consumers, actually. Despite all the advantages that robots and automation processes allow within the firm, indeed, some considerations will come less obvious.

First of all, the increase in the use of robots implies an increase in investment on R&D, which represents a high cost for the firm, both because of materials and because of technicians needed to come up with new ideas. Such initial costs might terribly hinder the profitability o the firm and even not provide it with a competitive advantage, for other firms might adopt the new technology as soon as it is put in practice and considered efficient.

Moreover, as already mentioned, most of the products nowadays are made up of different  components and it often passes through an extended value chain that not always is coherent with the standard process of production. Is the robot able to face such situations then? Such machineries are notoriously able to perform standard actions but many problems do arouse as any obstacle leads to a deviation from the standard process. In such case the presence of man power seems essential, unless new robots are ideated with the ability to perform actions independently, which means without a previous precise programming. This is why it is important to make an analysis that is not centred on the long-run because it is evident that we do not still live in that kind of world that is described by many Sci-Fi movies on the screens.  However, such scenario does not seem impossible in some decades from now and we could find ourselves to review our present considerations.

But here comes the main point: are effectively robots a substitute for human beings? All these things that have been just said should at least partially provide an answer. Robots do not seem to be able to replace human work completely, they only do this in the toughest roles which are mainly physic performances, those that are not very appreciated by people. Furthermore, even though they’re occupying some of our jobs even in a more efficient way, they are actually providing us with more opportunities. The reason why it is possible to claim this is because robots need to be ideated, devised, programmed and controlled. They are not autonomous at all, they need someone who overviews their work because current perspectives suggest that human brain power cannot be achieved by any device on earth. Engineers are more and more required all around the world, up to the point that a real shortage of labour supply seems to be there in this field. More technicians are having a higher demand and more specializations are rising in every sector.

Overall, robots and automation processes should not be considered a threaten for human labour but a source of improvement, for they are complementary to human power and the potential of their combination should be exploited at best. However, it is clear that in the long new horizons might gain the upper hand.