Why Manufacturing Will Never Be Fully Automated

16/06/2015
In today’s world, technology has taken on many of the tasks previously consigned to humans which has become a major controversy in manufacturing. Many workers fight against companies utilizing hi-tech automated processes because they feel it is putting the common worker out of a job.
In reality, technology should help to streamline processes while adding better and more efficient controls, but it cannot replace the role of a human in the process. If you are one of those seeking to fight the addition of automated processes in your industry, here is some food for thought.

Underlying Cause for Concern

With an economy just struggling back from what has been called the Great Recession, many workers have already been displaced at least once and are just working their way back into the labor force, perhaps after being unemployed for several years.
As mentioned, the real reason for working against automating more processes in manufacturing is because workers feel they can easily be replace by a button, as the old saying goes. When manufacturing is going strong, workers have more money to spend, the local economy improves and the impact begins to work its way outward to the national and global economies.

Dispelling the Myth

Although automation can streamline many jobs, it cannot replace the human mind. Needless to say, artificial intelligence hasn’t yet reached the point where it can design such things as works of art which take human emotions to understand the inherent beauty within. How does this equate to manufacturing?
Consider the fact that much of manufacturing is, itself, a work of art. Products need to be designed and plans need to be drawn for the production of the design once the plans are finalized. Of course each step within the process itself can be automated, controlled by a PLC (programmable logic controller) but a human is needed to design and program the controller!

Can Quality Control Be Automated?

Let’s take for example a welder working with metals that need precise joints to be welded. A master craftsman has spent his entire working years learning his trade, uses tig welders that are the best equipment for the type of precision weld being completed. While machines can and are used to weld certain joints, some need the eye of a human and this is an undisputed fact.
Taking this one step further, it’s time for quality control to inspect the work. Having used top-of-the-line equipment such as Lincoln Electric tig welders, the master welder is sure his work is flawless but quality control still needs to do a final inspection. Is this something that can be automated? The answer is an emphatic no! It takes the human eye to spot flaws and impurities in the weld and even with x-ray technology to ‘see’ if there are any gaps, the symmetry and beauty of the job can only be discerned with the human eye. If you doubt this, ask any master welder or quality control foreman.
Although a simplistic view of the question, the above should seek to reassure manufacturing and industrial workers that there will always be a job that needs the human touch. It may mean that you need to undergo higher levels of technical training, but no, humans can’t be dispensed with. Until the time when machines can become self-replicating with the ability to correct flaws in design, there is still a place in the workforce for willing and able bodies, so don’t despair just yet.

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