ameri resources


Need an office in metro Detroit, Alabama or Toronto? Office suites, meeting rooms, virtual offices, network access




free downloads
USA: "Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative" update

USA: "Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative" update. 4-page “Frequently Asked Questions” document published by the Department of Homeland Security.

proceed to download
eJournals

back to index backAMERItalk April,  2017


Surprise: Robots Aren't Replacing Humans In Key Areas Of Manufacturing

For workers, it's intimidating to hear of industrial digitization plans that envision handing over anywhere from 60 to 80 percent of processes to robots and other programmable machines in the not too distant future. But while there are certainly highly repetitive jobs bots would perform more efficiently and economically, automating alone is not always the best path to higher productivity.

Smart organizations learn quickly enough that if they place efficiency above a smooth organizational transformation, they may find their automation efforts fail to improve their companies' performance. The real key to developing a competitive edge in an age of evermore automation is striking the right balance between people and robots, and evidence abounds that it's not necessarily the most automated factories or service organizations that rise to the top.

"People are the most flexible form of automation. They can do anything. You just need to train them."

The automotive industry, among the first to embrace robots in the manufacturing process, provides a working example of why companies cannot simply replace employees or fail to retain and retrain. Stark productivity differences exist between the industry leaders and laggards, in large part based on the efficacy of their automation efforts. One result: Some automakers require as much as six months to transition to producing a new vehicle, while others need no more than a day.

Robots Versus Humans

At the root of the discrepancy is an appreciation of which jobs robots do more efficiently and which require a human touch. Leading car companies have almost completely automated their paint and body shops. These are jobs that require constant repetition and consistent quality and often present safety and ergonomic challenges. Although lead-based paints aren't used anymore, working in these areas still could expose workers to a bevy of unhealthy chemicals, making these the quintessential kinds of jobs robots have been designed to handle.

On the other hand, assembly lines " which must deal with the multitude of options on new models from side airbags to built-in vacuum cleaners " continue to heavily rely on a human workforce. To handle today's highly customized vehicles, with as many as 55,000 parts for the variety of electronics and other bells and whistles offered on autos, requires the flexibility of human workers who can adjust to changing needs and innovations without extensive reprogramming.

It's also important to understand all the costs involved in automating. Take, for instance, one European auto plant that invested 10 million euros in technology that would install windshields on cars on the assembly line, replacing the people who once did the job. Admittedly, the new machine was more consistent in applying the adhesive to hold the windshields in place, but it turned out that maintaining such highly sophisticated technology actually required twice as many workers as the company had employed installing the windshields in the first place. In the end, the most automated plants too often fall into the bottom quartile of plants based on productivity.

The Customization Boon

If you look at the most agile, most cost effective and highest quality operations, you will notice that head counts haven't plummeted over the past two decades, although workers may not be doing the same jobs. A good example is a North American production facility where a U.S. automaker is producing one of the newest and most customized models in its fleet. Automation and robots have been embraced for decades at this plant: Between 2005 and 2015, the company increased the number of bots in the paint and body shop alone to more than 1,000. Yet, the number of plant workers has only declined about 8% during the same 10 years " even as production in the last couple of years fell by almost 100,000 units because of the changeover to a new model.

What kept so many humans on the job? The key was the high level of customization in the latest model and savvy recognition by the manufacturer that keeping robots and automation reprogrammed to meet constantly changing needs may have delayed the transition and, short-term at least, made it more expensive.

Drawing from the experiences of automakers, change needs to be evolutionary, even if the impact of automation is ultimately revolutionary. When introducing bots and automating processes, managers should look to solve specific problems by implementing low-cost solutions, not automating large swaths of functions all at once simply in the name of efficiency.

Who's Critical?

To bring along employees, managers must introduce automation in steps. If they go too far too fast, they risk losing critical know-how as employees jump ship or are pushed off. A priority must be identifying and retaining the employees critical to re-engineering processes down the road " as well as those people needed to ensure the effective management of the bots and automation just incorporated into the workflow.

This revolution promises huge changes as physical infrastructure transforms; offshore capabilities are repatriated; more services become self-service and virtual; and customers begin to link more with robots. Companies will need to give employees new roles and responsibilities, training, and even new career paths as many transition into a new breed of professional with both business and technology skills who can manage both bots and humans in the future.

Along the way, managers should always bear in mind the lesson automakers have already learned: People are the most flexible form of automation. They can do anything. You just need to train them.

Source: Oliver Wyman - GAI



previous page

go top
search our site


Loading

AMERItalk

Other articles from the same issue (April,  2017).

North American auto industry needs NAFTA, says Scotiabank
play read on

The Digital Automaker (report)
play read on

Border Adjustment Tax: Estimated Impact on U.S. Vehicle Prices
play read on

Inside Alabama's auto jobs boom: Low wages, little training, crushed limbs
play read on

Location Notebook: Tennessee Automotive on the Road to Prosperity
play read on

The Next Generation of Automotive Sales: 2025 and Beyond
play read on

North American Automotive Production Forecast Summary (Q1-2017) - report
play read on

US Auto Industry Factory Production Falls Most Since August
play read on

Fascinating 1936 Footage of Car Assembly Line
play read on

How to tell if a car or truck is 'American'
play read on

Where the H-1B Visa Program Has the Biggest Impact
play read on

An Innovation-Led Boost for US Manufacturing
play read on

Surprise: Robots Aren't Replacing Humans In Key Areas Of Manufacturing
play read on

Trade Wargaming: Will Your Company Survive the Coming Global Trade War?
play read on

U.S. South, not just Mexico, stands in way of Rust Belt jobs revival
play read on

Why China is likely to stay quiet on Trump's steel probe
play read on

Supply Chain News: Made in USA is Real Trend, but Returning Production to US Shores is not Easy for Many
play read on

Delivering Excellence Globally: Insights into Cost Effective International Packaging
play read on

Time to Review Internal Confidentiality Agreements
play read on

Holding Us Back: Regulation of the U.S. Manufacturing Sector
play read on

Special Report: Commercial Insurance at the Crossroads
play read on

How to Avoid the Hidden Costs of Corporate Income Tax Liability
play read on

Why You Should Spend Dollars on Patent, Trademark Protection
play read on

Gender diversity on US boards in 2017
play read on

North America Tax News and Developments - April 2017
play read on

Employment Authorization Issues Arising From Corporate Restructuring
play read on

American Society of Employers (ASE) releases 2017 Starting Salaries for Co-op Students and Recent College Graduates Survey
play read on

Millennials aren't job-hopping any faster than Generation X did
play read on

U.S. Manufacturing Jobs Increase for Fourth Straight Month
play read on

Germany's Merkel encouraged US will consider EU free trade deal
play read on


Our Free eJournals
GlobalAutoExperts

To visit GlobalAutoExperts Directory, click here.


©2008 GlobalAutoIndustry.com | HCI Group, Ltd.
101 West Big Beaver Road, Suite 1400 | Troy, MI 48084 USA
USA Tel: +1.248.687.1060 | USA Fax: +1.248.927.0347
Fax UK: +44.(0)845.127.4765 | Fax Europe: +31.20.524.1659 | Fax Asia: +852.3015.8120