Are Robots Taking Over Woodworking Jobs?

By Karen Koenig | Posted: 01/14/2013 12:33PM


A growing trend in across all industry segments, in the wood products market we see more and more robots being used in plants for material handling and even basic construction applications: Custom Cupboards, Navy Island and Ro-Bois-Tic are just a few that come to mind.

Wood Components Navy PlywoodNavy Island Robots in fact make it easier for U.S. companies to lower their overhead, including insurance rates, and maximize profits. Their capability to work 24/7 also help wood products companies keep competitive on the price of goods, especially in comparison with lower cost imports.

Which leads me to an interesting segment on 60 Minutes last night about the growing use of robotics in manufacturing and whether robots were taking jobs away from human employees. In fact, during the "March of the Machines" report by 60 Minutes' Steve Kroft, it was noted that a robot’s “wage earnings” could be roughly estimated at $3 an hour, putting it level with those earned by laborers in many Far East/Asian countries.

Included in the 60 Minutes segment was Kroft's interviews with MIT professors Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson; while robots may be "revolutionizing" U.S. manufacturing, they are having a negative effect on job creation. In the interview, Brynjolfsson notes, "Technology is always creating jobs. It's always destroying jobs. But right now the pace  is accelerating. So as a consequence, we are not creating jobs at the same pace that we need to."

You also have to wonder about the impact this may be having on labor’s share of income in the workplace.

click image to zoomFRED Business Sector Labor ChartAndrew McAfee/FREDThe graph illustrates corporate profits compared to labor’s share of income. Labor shares continue to decline, while corporate profits are on an upward trend. McAfee's Jan. 9 blog, “Labor’s Lost Leverage,” also discusses that very point. Based on figures from the Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED), McAfee has compiled a graph where the divergence between corporate profits and labor’s share of income has never been greater than it is today.

Saying he expects the two lines to continue diverging, McAfee adds, “I am the farthest thing from a Marxist that you’ll ever meet, but I’m also not willing to pretend any more that things will be just fine for American workers once demand comes back and companies get healthy again. Judging by their profits, American companies have never been in better shape. The same cannot be said for workers.”

What do you think?

Watch the "March of the Machines" 60 Minutes segment


About the Author

Karen M. Koenig

Karen M. Koenig has more than 25 years of experience in the woodworking industry, including visits to wood products manufacturing facilities throughout North America, Europe and Asia. As Editor-in-Chief of Woodworking Network magazine (formerly Wood & Wood Products), Karen’s primary responsibilities include spearheading the writing, editing and coordinating of the editorial content of the publication, along with the Red Book resource guide and the Red Book online source and supply directory ( She is also a frequent contributor to other Woodworking Network online and print media. She can be reached at or Google+.

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January, 14, 2013 at 02:09 PM

This is great - robots will save US manufacturing. Woodworkers and other factory workers will have to adapt look for jobs in new industries, which is unfortunate for those who invested their lives but this has been happening for all of human history. The freeing of workers from one industry enables the development of new ones

Oregon  |  March, 14, 2013 at 10:53 AM

Jim must be very good Pot?

Jim in GA    
Georgia  |  January, 15, 2013 at 04:36 PM

Workers will then switch to the robotics industry and work in the design and manufacturing of robots, robotics repair, robotics programming....

Orlando Lumber    
January, 23, 2013 at 06:08 PM

Is hard to see what use to be a craft turned into work by robots. I can see its upsides means more work for us at but I can also see the downside.

Jim Sadler    
stuart, fl.  |  March, 14, 2013 at 07:26 AM

As early as 1984 serious work was being done on robots that replicate. Robots that can build and repair robots efficiently should be common enough soon. One area that has been difficult to penetrate is in robots that can write programs to program robots from scratch. That does exist but is not elegant at this time. It simply takes too much time and bother for a computer or robot to write software so far. But the really huge blast has not started yet. You may be aware that the Supreme Court has declared that corporations are humans in law. That is a precursor. Imagine a corporation composed of robots. Profits earned would simply be used to increase the robotic companies number and quality of robots and computers. No pay outs to human stock holders would be required as there would be no human stock holders. I do not imply that robotics needs to be restrained. But our world will change in ways we can not even dream of and will do so with great speed.

Oregon  |  March, 14, 2013 at 10:50 AM

Did you not see the movie I ROBOT? When everything is done by ROBOTS then we will be on a perminent vacation? King Obama will have this all in place after his 3rd or 4th term as our President? I am old so it will not affect me, but it will for anyone that is still in school. Best of luck to the human race.


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