Calls that robots are taking all of our jobs and will soon replace humans in nearly all manufacturing jobs will have to wait another day as Mercedes is replacing robots on their lines with humans. It’s reminiscent of Mark Twain’s line saying that “Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”
Mercedes thinks humans are faster?
The robots being replaced seem unable to handle the changes that come with the fantastic list of custom options available to purchasers of the S-Class sedan which are being manufactured at the company’s 101-year old Sindelfingen plant. That’s quite awhile when you consider the relative youth of the automobile in the grand scheme of things.
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The plant uses over 1,500 steel each and every day in order to produce about 400,000 cars each year.
It’s not so much that the robots candle handle the options, it’s that the software engineers responsible for their operation don’t have the ability keep up given the staggering amount of options available. At the price of the S-Class sedan, it’s no wonder that consumers are ordering one cup holder that keeps a beverage hot while the one next to it might cool a different beverage.
Markus Schaefer, Mercedes-Benz’ head of production told Bloomberg: “Robots can’t deal with the degree of individualization and the many variants that we have today. We’re saving money and safeguarding our future by employing more people.”
According to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), industrial robots still have their place in the automotive industry, their biggest use, with almost 100,000 shipping in 2014 alone. Those 100,000 join others already in operation. Presently, there are roughly one-and-a-half million robots in operation worldwide across all industries with the Federation hoping to nearly double that number in just over two year’s time.
Rich people seem to order a car like you or I might a Whopper. They want it “there way” and they are paying enough to expect this as automakers compete for their business.
Flexibility is key for luxury car makers
Schaefer said: “We’re moving away from trying to maximize automation with people taking a bigger part in industrial processes again. We need to be flexible. The variety is too much to take on for the machines. They can’t work with all the different options and keep pace with changes.”
In a sea change, Mercedes has moved to robots being operated by humans. Much smaller robots than the ones that Mercedes still uses quite a few of to this day. Mercedes still uses large-scale robots with no humans in sight to assemble cars with fewer options.
BMW, Audi and Mercedes are all looking to build smarter robots that work alongside humans without risking the lives of their human compatriots while building the second most luxury cars of any car maker.
In order for robots to maintain their place in all industries, they need to maintain their consistency and reliability with the flexibility that consumer choices demand.
Cars take a long time to design but with the addition of options like Mercedes offers, humans will have a job for the foreseeable future. It’s refreshing that while cars move towards autonomy humans, may not be needed behind the wheel, they are still needed on the assembly line.
The suggestions that robots will take over is likely the case they are just going to have to wait a little while.