• Ali Egan

A Currently Automated Population: Industrial Automation

The involvement of developing technologies in business is not a new concept. From the advent of the assembly line, to the mass adoption of email, technological advancements have increased productivity and efficiency.

The assembly line, first introduced by Henry Ford in 1913, is one of the first examples we have of industrial automation. This innovation decreased the time spend building a car from over twelve hours to two and a half. This assembly line functioned by moving the work to the workers, instead of having individuals or teams move themselves to the product. Now, automotive manufacturing facilities are even more advanced, with robots programmed to do every step under the supervision of mechanical gurus and engineers. The efficiency gained from having man and machine working together in the automotive industry has made vehicles available and affordable to the masses.

The notion of having high level computing technology in the workplace is frightening, as the advancement of automation does threaten factory jobs, but automation technology alone will not provide manufacturers with the results they desire. Time and tests have shown that when computers and humans work together, it yields incomparable results to when humans work alone, and when computers work alone.

If we look at Chess, as an example: there have been a slew of computer programs written to play chess since the first one in 1956, where the program, named MANIAC, defeated a novice. These programs progressed and became more and more difficult to defeat until in 1997, when the program Deep Blue, defeated a world champion in a six game match and shocked the world. Today there has been another development in chess: Centaur chess. In centaur chess, humans are able to consult outside sources, including computers, for help. These teams play chess better than either a lone computer or a lone human, including grandmasters.

In terms of factory automation as we understand it now, there are several applications for this technology that not only increase efficiency, but also accuracy. Consider, for a moment, a computer chip manufacturing company. Humans must design and develop these chips initially, but in mass production, accuracy and speed is essential. Both humans and machines are susceptible to error, but humans experience fatigue, whereas machines do not. Humans are better suited within the applications of factory work to program and monitor the automation technology. Computer chip manufacturing is not the only industry experiencing a growth in automation. Automobile factories have made huge strides in automation since the development of the assembly line. Cardboard box manufacturers use automation to mass produce custom boxes for customers. Fast food companies use automation to prep food items before shipping to the individual restaurants.

There are instances where automation, paired with heavy machinery and a lack of human quality control can cause issues. Recently, a salad company was forced to recall thousands of bags of salad due to the presence of bat in their salad mixes. The machinery not understanding the difference between baby arugula and bat wing undoubtedly caused this crisis.

Automation technology is clearly here to stay in the field of advanced manufacturing, but companies are balancing the need for machinery with the need for human controls and programming. Obviously technology is not flawless and needs to be monitored closely, but when humans and computers work together, efficiency is increased and better products are made.

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