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.

PROS

A SOLUTION TO THE LABOR SHORTAGE

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.

ELIMINATE MINDLESS TASKS

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.

INCREASED WORKER SAFETY

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.

IMPROVED PRODUCT QUALITY, ACCURACY, REPEATABILITY, AND LESS HUMAN ERROR

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.

HIGHER VOLUME OF PRODUCTION

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

LESS EMPLOYEE COSTS

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

CONS

DISPLACEMENT OF MIDDLE-CLASS JOBS

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.

LESS VERSATILITY

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

MORE POLLUTION

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

BIG CAPITAL INVESTMENT

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.

UNPREDICTABLE OR UNKNOWN COSTS

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.

HIGHER UNEMPLOYMENT RATES

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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