While many advanced manufacturing workers are fearful for their jobs with the influx of technology in the industry, there are many benefits to be reaped from the addition of automation and artificial intelligence in assembly and production lines.
The reality is that the inclusion of new technologies has created efficiency and supply chain possibilities that were previously unimaginable. This Industry 4.0 movement has not only facilitated greater productivity and lower costs, but offers a number of benefits to assembly and production line workers who have previously been fearful of these advancements in the workplace.
Perhaps the most worker-friendly aspect technology offers to manufacturing is safety. Workplace injuries cost U.S. companies 59.9 billion in 2014, with the top 10 causes of injury including over-exertion, falls, equipment injuries, and repetitive motion injury. In the most recent available data, manufacturing came in second for most workplace injuries, with 125,990 cases.
By giving the dangerous and repetitive tasks to robots and other machines, workers are more protected. These include automated processes, digital fail-safes and machine stops, and connectivity through the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). In conjunction with strong safety processes and training, automation and the movement of workers to machine management is expected to improve workplace safety, which will positively impact bottom lines in the long run.
This replacement of workers has caused some concern about job availability and security, however, the best way to augment this void is to train the workers on the machinery that is replacing them. When businesses choose to do so, they create better environments for their workers, and create continued job security and growth while promoting worker safety. These companies are investing in the future of their business’s productivity and workforce, and are empowering workers to learn skills that are imperative to Industry 4.0 and the manufacturing future.
Despite job decline, manufacturing output has reached record levels in recent years. This is likely due to the addition of automation. While it’s not a surprise that machines have the power to do certain tasks faster and more effectively than humans, the addition of machines to the manufacturing assembly line has created room for workers to perform other important tasks.
A great example of this is how Toyota installs gas tanks. Previously, gas tank installation was a time consuming and tedious task. These days, a robot takes care of the whole process, however, a human now performs an extra step of inspection for flaws and weaknesses. Toyota only utilizes manufacturing in about 8% of the assembly line process, however, these changes have significantly influenced productivity and a worker’s use of time. In adding automation to these tasks, Toyota has allowed more consistency and higher production rates, while giving workers more specialized skill benefits.
Precision is imperative in advanced manufacturing. A lack of precision in the creation of many goods can lead to malfunction and recall, and can be detrimental to perceived quality and overall worth of a business. In more human-centric manufacturing, the creation of small and specific parts for industries such as aerospace and automotive has been difficult, costly, and time-consuming. For companies focused on making these parts, robots and automation offer new and more advanced work, frequently with better benefits.
Marlin Steel found itself suffering as Chinese manufacturing began to impact their sales. Knowing that it would be difficult to compete, the company decided to change, opting to manufacture more high-quality precision products for clients like Boeing. Marlin Steel was able to accomplish this through robotics and automation that let them produce these advanced products, and in the process, they created more jobs and higher wages for employees. Greater precision creates more opportunity for manufacturing companies to see growth, particularly as new advances require greater precision and accuracy.
Contrary to its reputation as a potential job-stealer, automation actually offers many benefits to workers and employers on the assembly line. As businesses begin to adapt to automation trends, changes to worker safety, productivity, and product quality will become the new norm. And these shifts in manufacturing will not only contribute to more innovative jobs for workers, but transform the productivity and landscape of the industry.