Pros and Cons of Automation in Manufacturing

Machine automation is a hot topic these days. The conversation is not without advocates both for and against making the transition toward automated machines, AI, and robotics and away from a real, human workforce. Without picking sides, we compiled some of the strongest pros and cons of automation in manufacturing. Take a look and let us know what you think in the comments section.



Automation mitigates the effects of labor shortages. In the skilled trades, this pro is especially powerful because we are dealing with a deficit of skilled workers able to perform the roles required in our factories, plants, and sites.


There’s a worthy argument that automation merely eliminates the mindless, manual, clerical tasks that are routine and boring. Of course, this argument only serves as a ‘pro’ of automation if we are to both ‘eliminate’ these mindless tasks AND create MORE meaningful, challenging tasks that require critical thinking. The argument is that we are ultimately improving the general level of working conditions.


If your transfer your workforce from active, hands-on positions, to supervisory roles, you’ve increased the overall safety. This is a pretty major selling point for automation, with large organizations like OSHA that have such a strong say in the skilled trades.


Experts argue that when a machine is programmed to perform a repeated task, the accuracy and repeatability of the work is much greater than work of human hands. The potential for human error is greatly decreased.


Automated equipment is capable of producing much larger production volumes than a largely human workforce.


With a smaller human workforce, employers will be able to skirt numerous costs like payroll, benefits, health care, sick days, etc.



Automation and AI have the capability to, in Stephen Hawking’s words, ‘decimate the middle-class jobs’ and displace the working class. The fear, as Business Insider puts it, is that the necessary trade-off of radical increases in efficiency in industry will be a loss of human jobs to machines.


An employee can perform a flexible variety of tasks, whereas a machine is limited to what it’s been programmed to do.


Your standard automated machine will run on a motor, producing more pollution than a human worker.


Utilizing automated machinery in a manufacturing plant requires a large, sunken operational cost. Making the transition can cost between thousands and millions of dollars, depending on the type of manufacturing plant. Vista-Industrial points out that if your plant is a small operation with low production quantities, this sunken cost may not pay off. But a larger facility with lots of employees on the shop floor will likely make a better case for automation.


Automation in manufacturing hasn’t become widely implemented until very recently. There is a world of unpredictable or unknown costs that come with new technology. Maintenance, repair, supervision, training, etc.


The displacement of shop floor workers as a result of automation results in higher unemployment rates for your region or state. If you are a staple employer in your area, this higher unemployment rate could jeopardize your relationship with your local or state government. Specifically, if you lean on any kind of government support, programs, or assistance (workforce development programs, for instance).

download our free 5S checklist and cut costs in your plant!

Bringing automation into your plant requires a major capital investment. Start with something simpler, quicker and more accessible like our free 5S checklist that will help you identify costly wastes in your facility and save money. Download by clicking above.

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How to Train Your Employees on Lean Principles

Lean principles just make sense. Whether you’re looking to adopt the 5S methodology, perform a bottleneck analysis, or measure your key performance indicators, training your employees on lean principles is the foundation of measurable progress in your facility—in terms of efficiency, productivity, and overall workplace morale. Get started here.


You need a strong, defined management team to implement lean principles throughout your entire organization. Gather your core team and talk through all the areas where you see room for improvement (i.e., waste).

  • List off impediments or hurdles to progress you may run into. Low employee morale? Shortage of resources? Lack of leadership experienced in lean principles?
  • Assign roles to share responsibility as you implement your strategy. This opening conversation will guide your strategy and clarify the wisest balance of responsibility across your management team in training your employees on lean principles.
  • Document and share your working strategy with your entire organization.


What is lean? In Henry Ford’s words, “We will not put into our establishment anything that is useless.” Lean manufacturing is a method of running a manufacturing system, plant, or facility. Regardless of the application, the method is guided by an underlying principle: the elimination of all forms of waste that don’t add value to the business. To implement the methods for a leaner manufacturing plant, this principle must be understood by your entire workforce. Call this introduction the first step of training your employees for a lean manufacturing plant.

“We will not put into our establishment anything that is useless.”-Henry Ford


Before you brainstorm solutions you need to identify the problem. When talking lean manufacturing and training your employees, this means identifying all forms of waste in your facility. Sit down with your team and talk through all these forms of wastes you want to eliminate in your plant. This likely includes:

  • Overproduction
  • Transportation
  • Non-value adding processes
  • Inventory waste
  • Motion waste
  • Waste of defective products
  • Waste of unsafe conditions
  • Human energy waste
  • Searching waste
  • Waste of unsafe conditions


Standard operating procedures matter because they ensure consistent, repeatable results within your organization. If you want to implement lean principles in your plant through sustained progress, a documented strategy is key—i.e. standard operating procedures. Without documenting every facet of your strategy, execution will fall short.  Training or re-training your team on your facility’s pre-existing SOP’s is a prerequisite to implementing these lean principles, so everyone is aware of the current state, the gap, and how you’re going to close it. SOP’s may include:

  • Inventory tracking
  • Cleaning and operation of major machinery
  • In-process checking
  • Material processing
  • Quality control
  • Product assembly

In order to implement lean principles throughout your organization, your entire workforce must be aware of the current deficits in efficiency (i.e. waste). Identifying the gap is the first step in closing it.


The idea behind Kaizen is that all employees are actively engaged in the regular, incremental improvement of the company. How? Through organized events focused on improving specific areas within the company. This creates the culture of continuous improvement needed to facilitate your new lean principles. You need your workforce to be on board with the goal of improving the company. Whether in terms of employee morale, productivity, efficiency (i.e. lean principles), or safety, Kaizen is a tried-and-true framework for catalyzing the team collaboration that necessitates marketable progress.

Consider Kaizen in seven phases:

  • Identify opportunity
  • Analyze process
  • Develop solution
  • Study results
  • Standardize solution
  • Plan for future
Downloadable 5S checklist
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Develop a Lean Manufacturing Plant with 5S Methodology

The 5S methodology is a proven set of principles to make your manufacturing plant more streamlined, efficient, and productive. EHS Today calls it ‘the place where safety and lean meet’. The idea is that safety is the ‘honory’ 6th s. Like icing on the cake of a work area that is safe, organized, and efficient. Assembly can verify, 5S supports just-in-time production, cellular manufacturing, total quality management, and Six Sigma—the pillars of a lean manufacturing plant. And the more organized, cleanly, and productive your work area? The happier and more productive your  workforce. Check it out.

“Benefits [of 5S methodology] include raising quality, lowering costs, promoting safety, building customer confidence, increasing uptime, and lowering repair costs.”-John Grower


Keep what you need. Identify what is out of place or in the way. And give away what you don’t. Simple. Need a rule of thumb?

  • Never used? Ditch it
  • Used < twice a year? Store it, out of the work area
  • Used once a week? Store in the work area
  • Used once a day? Keep it on hand, out of the way


‘A place for everything and everything in its place’. This is a core pillar of achieving a lean manufacturing plant. The key? Labelling, storing, and logging equipment, tools, gear, materials, and miscellaneous items properly.

  • Label every important piece of equipment, gear, or tool
  • Denote the responsible of each item
  • Make every item used on a daily or weekly basis easily accessible
  • Create a color-coded map to save time finding equipment, gear, and tools

Sorting properly eliminates time wasted spent finding items or getting items out of the way that are obsolete. LISTA identifies the following kinds of wastes that can be eliminated: motion waste, searching waste, human energy waste, excess waste of inventory, waste of defective products, waste of unsafe conditions. How that’s for lean?


Keep it clean; keep employee morale high. Keeping your facility cleanly and tidy is a critical part of sustaining your efforts to streamline your plant for better productivity. A comfortable, clean, uncluttered environment increases your workforce’s pride in their workplace, ownership, and ultimately level of motivation. That’s one hell of a good outlook for the success of your plant.


Document, share, and review your strategy. Communication is key to making 5S methodology the new norm. Old habits die hard, but documenting your goals, strategy, and progress puts the right amount of pressure and support on your workforce to develop this new culture.

With focused, documented effort, 5S can become your standard operating procedure. And you’re well on your way to becoming a more lean manufacturing plant with happier, more productive workers.


Any new initiative requires a culture change, communication, and new habits to achieve real improvement. Stick with it and encourage your workforce through your own disciplined commitment to the 5s principles. Otherwise, time and money invested into making your plant more streamlined, efficient, productive—and, ultimately, lean—are pointless.

5S checklist
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