AT&D #54. Balancing Automation and Human Interaction

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How can automation and human-interaction be balanced in accomplishing a task?

Balancing between automation and human-interaction is very necessary as over-reliance on either by itself can prove problematic. With automation, we see how the use of automatic equipment that replaces human interaction changes the manufacturing process from one that used to be done by hand or by physical motion (of a worker) to one that is done by machine parts running on their own via a control center (that may or may not be always monitored by a head worker). This is a trend that has increased over the last few decades but not without concerns regarding the need to balance these two processes in manufacturing.

Relying on 100% automation may seem appealing as it reduces the number of worker-related mess ups and even injuries at a manufacturing plant if using actual workers, but problems still would arise from depending on automation only. As machines that specialize in certain functions per stage of the manufacturing process repeat their work on an hourly/daily/monthly/yearly basis, they wear down and become subjected to monitoring and inspection.

If these machines fail partially or even completely, there would be a delay in production due to the length of time it could take to repair such machines. And in an opposite scenario, if a manufacturing plant relies on workers at every station to do their part (for perhaps several hours at a time), and some workers oversleep on their job, for example, they too could delay production in the ensuing aftermath of their mistakes.

Therefore, balance is needed between automation and human- interaction, namely in areas where such is most appropriate. Automation should be utilized for the most part for the mechanical process while human-interaction should be emphasized on monitoring the machines’ progress. Furthermore, human- interaction should be reserved for stations where work that is needed to be done cannot yet be done by non-human means (at least professionally).

Many of the printing processes we use today for example have evolved over decades where now, the only parts of the process that are done by humans are setting preferences and initiating the process.

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