For decades now China has loomed over America’s manufacturers, seemingly pulling away jobs, orders, and business with its promises of cheap, productive labor. That might be beginning to change, at least according to an Op-Ed in the Washington Post by Vivek Wadhwa, a Distinguished Fellow and professor at Carnegie Mellon University of Engineering. Wadhwa argues that China’s advantages have been undercut by technological advantages. Robots cost the same in China as they do in America, but China faces a shortage of skilled laborers who are needed to run the new manufacturing technology. This gives the US and Europe an opening to reclaim manufacturing jobs, provided they are able to adapt to the new demands of the industry faster than China.
“China has made this a national priority and is making massive investments. Just one province, Guangdong, committed to spending $150 billion to equip its factories with industrial robots and create two centers dedicated to advanced automation. But no matter how much money it spends, China simply can’t win with next-generation manufacturing. It built its dominance in manufacturing by offering massive subsidies, cheap labor and lax regulations. With technologies such as robotics and 3-D printing, it has no edge.
After all, American robots work as hard as Chinese robots. And they also don’t complain or join labor unions. They all consume the same electricity and do exactly what they are told. It doesn’t make economic sense for American industry to ship raw materials and electronics components across the globe to have Chinese robots assemble them into finished goods that are then shipped back. That manufacturing could be done locally for almost the same cost. And with shipping eliminated, what once took weeks could be done in days and we could reduce pollution at the same time.”