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Is there a possibility that people's labor might not be necessary for different manufacturing processes in the future?

September 06, 2019

People, not technology, shape the future of manufacturing

These are exciting times for manufacturing. A plethora of recent technological developments creates radically new opportunities for how we develop, manufacture, and deliver products globally.  Many managers are excited, baffled, or both. Many job
seekers are worried.
Three decades ago, leadership expert Warren Bennis envisioned that “the factory of the future will have only two employees: a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment.

After all, have we not been told that robotics and digitalization will complete processes more effectively and efficiently than humans? That machine learning is training machines to train machines? That artificial intelligence is even entering company boardrooms? While this may hold true for some tasks, the vast amount of other tasks will in fact remain largely unaffected in the near term.

 One example of such a task is the development of new technologies in the first place. Another equally important task is to figure out how to best apply them.

If you ask anyone today to name which automobile brand is the greatest innovator in the car industry, chances are this will be a frequently mentioned brand of choice. But manufacturing isn’t just about having the most advanced products and technologies. Earlier this year, even Elon Musk admitted that over-automation of its Model 3 production line was “a mistake”, leading him to tweet that “humans are underrated”. The episode sums up our first argument concisely: a factory without humans is a dangerous vision. Manufacturing simply does not move without skilled and motivated people.

 For this reason, human learning will remain more important than machine learning in the future of manufacturing. That should be a reassuring thought for producers and employees alike.

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