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The future African workplace: The use of collaborative robots in manufacturing

Industry 4.0 promotes technological innovations and human-robot collaboration (HRC). Human-robot interaction (HRI) and HRC on the manufacturing assembly line have been implemented in numerous advanced production environments worldwide. Collaborative robots (Cobots) are increasingly being used as collaborators with humans in factory production and assembly environments. The purpose of the research is to investigate the current use and future implementation of Cobots worldwide and its specific impact on the African workforce. Exploring the gap that exists between the international implementation of Cobots and the potential implementation and impact on the African manufacturing and assembly environment and specifically on the African workforce. The study features a qualitative research design. An open-ended question survey was conducted amongst leading manufacturing companies in South Africa in order to determine the status and future implementation of Cobot practices. Thematic analysis and content analysis were conducted using AtlasTi. The findings indicate that the African businesses were aware of the international business trends, regarding Cobot implementation, and the possible impact of Cobots on the African work force. Factors specifically highlighted in this study are fear of retrenchment, human-Cobot trust and the African culture. Practical implications and value-add: This study provides valuable background on the international status of Cobot implementation and the possible impact on the African workforce. The study highlights the importance of building employee trust, providing the relevant training and addressing the fear of retrenchment amongst employees.