Smart Manufacturing vs. Robots: Why America’s Manufacturers May Have a Bigger Image Problem than They Thought

When asked to describe the impact on the economy of modernizing factories with advanced technology and automation, nearly two-thirds of Americans told pollsters that it either made no difference or actually hurt the economy, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal Economics Bureau Chief, Timothy Aeppel. The percentage who thought it was bad—37 percent of the total—rose with lower household income and among those with lower education. But even among the well-educated and better-off, there was a surprising degree of rage against the machines. 31 percent of those with incomes over $100,000 said modernizing factories hurt the economy, while a quarter of college graduates felt that way.

The report was based on a survey initiated by Rockwell Automation, a Milwaukee-based maker of factory automation equipment, on behalf of an industry group called Smart Manufacturing Coalition, which was formed last fall to among other things encourage government support for the development of advanced factory technology. John Bernaden, a Rockwell spokesman and vice chairman of the coalition told the Journal that the results were shockingly bad. For example, one question showed that 14 percent of respondents thought modernized factories were actually bad for them as individual consumers, while 45 percent said it made no difference. The survey was conducted by Princeton, NJ-based ORC International, which surveyed 1,009 adults.

Rockwell conducted a series of six consumer focus groups across the U.S. which focused on whether knowing that products were made with advanced technology would influence buying behavior. In these sessions, participants were presented with various phrases such as : “Made Smart,” and were told that “smart” stood for “smart, machines, automation, robot, and technology.”

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