Robots Ride to the Rescue Where Workers Cana��t Be Found


Many are doing brisk business as companies around Eastern Europe accelerate an automation drive. At Rittal, a maker of switch gears and control cabinets for industrial robots, orders rose 15 percent last year and have jumped 25 percent since January.

a�?Companies arena��t able to produce more, so their competitiveness is falling,a�? said Jaromir Zeleny, Rittala��s managing director. a�?They dona��t want to be so dependent on people.a�?

Cost is another factor. Eastern Europe became a manufacturing powerhouse by luring multinationals with low wages. That advantage is ebbing, though. Average monthly pay in the Czech Republic rose 8 percent last year to about 1,160 euros, or about $1,400. Although one-third the average in Germany, they are expected to keep climbing.

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Businesses say letting in more foreign workers would help. But the conservative government has pledged to limit immigration, and recently set strict caps on foreign work visas.

There are longer-term trends at play, as well. Families arena��t having children fast enough to replace people heading into retirement. Automation, one argument goes, could compensate. Skoda, the nationa��s biggest automaker, said last month that it would a�?significantly acceleratea�? automation to face demographic changes and wage pressures.