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In a world where employers seek to boost profitability by trimming labor costs through robotic workforce, Mercedes Benz tries the other way around. The German automaker recently announced that it would remove some of its bots on the assembly line to make room to humans.
Markus Schaefer, the company’s chief of production, explained that the demands of modern customers can no longer be satisfied through industrial robots alone. Schaefer explained that the key to a successful business in a excessively crowded industry is customization.
Robots, however, cannot handle the requirements of individualization. They need to be flexible and creative enough to cater for each specific customer. And this is a job fit only for human workers.
Schaefer broke the news at the Mercedes’ largest plant, in Sindelfingen. He also added that the move would eventually save the company more cash. Plus, hiring more people would also help Mercedes to safeguard the future.
The 101-year-old Sindelfingen plant, however, is not the best site to question the utility of robots. Automation is helping the plant produce over 400,000 cars every year, and process 1,500 tons of raw materials every single day.
But the new trends on the market may have forced the automaker to adapt. While robots are good at performing specific tasks time and time again, they are incredibly bad at adapting and versatility. And that can slow down a business with so many model offerings, and multitude of features attached to each model.
“The variety is too much to take on for the machines,”
The car maker also strives to reduce the hours needed to generate a vehicle from 61 to 30. Schaefer explained that it takes the company several weeks to reprogram all bots to assembly a new production line. With a team of highly skilled workers, that could be done over one weekend, he added.
The company has already started to trim its robotic fleet on the assembly line. Its latest model of Mercedes E-Class will need to be manufactured by either human workers or a mobile machine, so two heavy-duty but immobile robots will lose their jobs.
Additionally, Mercedes plans to replace its current fleet of immobile industrial robots with machines that are lighter and more flexible. The car maker explained that the tiny bots would work alongside humans at its future models.
Volkswagen and BMW quickly followed suit. They announced that they would also equip their assembly lines with tiny robots that are safe to work with. All companies hope that the move would give them an edge against competitors as cars tend nowadays to morph into smartphones on wheels.
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