Advanced manufacturing technologies are increasing efficiency and improving quality. However, even if they’ve freed assembly line workers from repetitive tasks, machines can’t do everything that people can. Creativity and strategic thinking remain distinctly human qualities. In ideal situations, automation empowers humans to take advantage of unique skills to improve the manufacturing process.
Eliminating Humans from Manufacturing Has Been Attempted Before
Some executives, like Tesla CEO Elon Musk, envision a fully automated factory where delivery, manufacturing, and assembly will be done without human intervention. This approach has been tried before in the auto industry. When General Motors CEO Roger Smith agreed to a joint venture with Toyota, called NUMMI, in the early 1980s, he envisioned entirely automated factories with no lights and no people. After spending billions of dollars on robots, the results were less than stellar. As an engineer on the project, Steven St. Angelo said, “It was a disaster…all automation works in a lab environment; however, when you add the ingredient of variation (product for example), it’s a new ball game.” Although technology and automation have made great strides since the 1980s, there’s no reason to believe that there is less need for human intervention today.
Intelligent Machines Have Amazing Capabilities, But They Still Need Humans
Of course, intelligent machines have their place. They are ideally suited to automating highly specialized, repetitive tasks. Machine learning and artificial intelligence have made them even better at these operations, allowing them to perform with incredible accuracy. Also, sophisticated analytics platforms are leveraging machine learning to bring advanced capabilities to users that don’t have a background in science or engineering. Finally, their computing power allows machines to perform a much more thorough analysis than humans ever could. This provides a complete view of a given situation and helps avoid confirmation bias. However, as powerful as they are, computers simply lack the human advantage. While computers excel at exploring “what-if” scenarios, they still require human judgment to validate the machine’s prescriptive actions.
Automation Frees Humans to Do What We Do Best
Automation will allow manufacturing to be done more efficiently, freeing humans to do what we do best. As automation replaces jobs such as pressing buttons, packing boxes, or completing simple clerical tasks, we’re likely to see an increase in highly-specialized vocational skills and training. Entirely new skill sets will be necessary since we’ll need human ingenuity to fine-tune the outputs of smart analytics and make the results accessible and valuable to users of varying skill levels. Once we know the desired outcomes, we can decide what processes to automate and where to apply uniquely human skills. Successful organizations won’t merely automate tasks but choose when and how machines and data can empower the people making the calls.
At Genesis Products, we’re Product Driven and People Powered and we are excited to be a part of the manufacturing resurgence in America.
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