The Human vs. Machine Race in Manufacturing

In the next five years, high demand for machines in the manufacturing environment will push the industrial equipment industry forward. Already, machine production revenue is continuing to increase. Machine tools will reach revenues of $1.6 trillion this year, up from $1.5 trillion in 2013, and 2018 revenue is predicted to reach $2 trillion.

Resultantly, manufacturers will be integrating machines into all process, from auto making to packaging. Automating processes will lead to a significant increase in productivity, improve quality control and, possibly, increase workforces. Previous waves of machine automation, such as the mechanization of agriculture, did not hinder employment rates. Instead, the necessary skill set manufacturing employees will be required to have will evolve. For example, car manufacturer Toyota combines machine automation with human workers.

Toyota’s Human vs. Machine Balance
Many view Toyota’s decision as an unconventional choice for a Japanese company since Japan has the most industrial robots of any other country. However, Toyota’s strategy is to make sure workers continue to understand the work they’re completing and to retain human insight in manufacturing processes. Toyota worries that complete automation will decrease the skills of their workers and not provide the necessary insight and information required for continuous improvement. Toyota project lead Mitsuru Kawai stated, “We cannot simply depend on the machines that only repeat the same task over and over again. To be the master of the machine, you have to have the knowledge and the skills to teach the machine.”

Ultimately, adaptability is essential when it comes to Toyota’s strategy, and the automaker views too much automation as a fixed cost and reduces their flexibility.

Complete Automation
For Great Wall Motors in Baoding, China, robots and other machinery line its factory floor. The auto maker views machines as more than a cost savings. For example, Li Shaohui, who oversees automatic control engineering, stated, “To beat those competitors (Audi and Volkswagen), we have no choice but to use a higher level of equipment and technology.”

Great Wall’s automation efforts have seen successes. The automaker built Havel sport utility vehicle, called the Wingle pickup truck, which gained popularity in Australia. Additionally, four of their models passed European safety and emissions requirements; however, they’re not yet on sale in Europe.

Following the automation trend as well, Japanese camera maker Canon recently announced plans to move towards a fully automated manufacturing system. Canon hopes factories will be entirely automated by 2015.

What will happen next?
Only time will tell if technological transformations will affect human’s role in the manufacturing environment and how many processes will move towards complete automation.

Find out more about the growth of machine technology in the manufacturing environment in our blog,M2M Technology: The Rise of the Machines.

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