AT&D #54. Balancing Automation and Human Interaction

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 have seen how the use of automatic equipment that replaces human interaction changes the manufacturing process; that is, from one that used to be done by hand or by physical action (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.

100% relying on automation may seem appealing as it reduces the number of worker-related mistakes 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 a given manufacturing process repeat their work on an hourly / daily / monthly / yearly basis, parts eventually wear down and machines have to be subjected to routine 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 as part of an 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 in a machine’s mechanical process while human-interaction should be emphasized on monitoring a 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) due to limitations of current technology.

Many of the printing processes we use today for example have evolved over the decades where now, the only parts of the process that involve human action are setting print preferences and initiating a print task; all else involving color, size and print adjustments are communicated electronically via a printer’s internal computer.

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