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14 comments

Can Robots Take Over Manufacturing?

Posted February 14, 2011 7:59 AM

Robots continue to get cheaper, smarter, and more versatile, making them attractive for an ever-growing number of industries. Today, human-robot interactions are one of the hottest growing research and development areas for industrial robots as new service robots get ready to change the way the world functions from hospital rooms to plant floors. Do you see a time in your career when robots can do most, if not all, of your manufacturing operations? Is that a good thing for industry? How about society?

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#1

Re: Can Robots Take Over Manufacturing?

02/14/2011 9:18 AM

With the every increasing costs of raw materials can we not use technology to reduce the cost of goods do to human error.

Or to save lives http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medical_error 44,000 to 200,000 lives 1,000,000 injuries a year. Estimated 2 billion dollars cost.

If the technology helps to reduce the unnecessary pain and suffering do to human error. I'm all for it can put price on that.

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#2

Re: Can Robots Take Over Manufacturing?

02/14/2011 10:37 PM

All we need to do is resurrect 'Robbie' from the original "Day the Earth Stood Still" and we will be able to do anything using robots. In fact, all we would need to do is think about what we would like him to do and he would do it.

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#3
In reply to #2

Re: Can Robots Take Over Manufacturing?

02/14/2011 11:44 PM

Robbie was from "Forbidden Planet". Gort was the police robot from "The Day The Earth Stood Still".

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#11
In reply to #2

Re: Can Robots Take Over Manufacturing?

02/15/2011 9:49 AM

Hi Doog,

What will you do when the robot works? Did you ask yourself this question? Consider it for the future minutes, Gil.

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#4

Re: Can Robots Take Over Manufacturing?

02/15/2011 12:24 AM

Back in the mid 70's I spent 2 years developing a machine to do the same function as the women did that had to take a branch, put the end in btwn 2 dies, step on a foot pedal that crushed the end of the branch. After several of them had crushed their fingers, even with guards in place, (OSHA approved), I showed my boss a prototype of what I was working on and got the go ahead to build. In more design/refinements I added a few more parts and functions to this machine. In the end, 18 women were laid off after several of these made it to the production floor. That was not the intent I was working on, I was just trying to save crushed fingers. When I discussed this with my boss, he just said there was nothing for them to do since my machine was at work every day, did what they all did, and never broke down, didn't take time off and there fore they were no longer required to be at the plant. Was that an eye opening deal for me at 20 years old. So all new equipment I designed I had to keep that in mind as to not replace people. In 1986 company was sold and moved operations to Mexico. I elected not to move with the company. Robots are now much smarter, faster, more accurate, always on time, seldom "take a break" and just keep going and going. The Human labor pool is or will be eliminated in the very near future. There will be more people unemployed and we will be witnessing some older movies that we have all seen before. And when we get older and no longer required to be around, we will become Soylent Green Biscuits.

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#6
In reply to #4

Re: Can Robots Take Over Manufacturing?

02/15/2011 4:13 AM

It sounds as though you feel guilty about those people being laid off. Several years ago I installed an automated packing system that reduced from 96 to 12 the number of women employed in packing a product. 18 months later I met the factory manager and told him that I too was feeling guilty about the 84 lost jobs. His reply, "don't think of it as 82 lost jobs, without those losses the whole factory would have closed, you saved 600 jobs"

I have spent most of my working career automating people out of (oops I mean into) jobs.

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Anonymous Poster
#12
In reply to #4

Re: Can Robots Take Over Manufacturing?

02/15/2011 10:10 AM

Hi Jim,

You intention wasn't to save fingers! Your intention was to make something, which do not cut fingers, isn't it? You never imagined the consequences about your invention turned into innovation, and your boss probably compensated you for it, and fired women with one or more fingers less on their hands. Your boss, the entrepreneur was thinking only profits.

Japaneses did, do, and will do these kinds of improvements (kamban) but relocate people to something else without firing them. They increase sales because improved production reduce costs and became more attractive to more customers the better and lower cost product.

Jim, don't be afraid! Robot will not replace humans, just do jobs that human cannot accomplish repeatedly during longer period of time.

Concrning your boss, you get the answer: He was greedy, Gil.

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#5

Re: Can Robots Take Over Manufacturing?

02/15/2011 3:03 AM

They could probably take over the fiancial sector and we'd all save a shed load of money.
We'd have sensible interest rates, stable pensions, lending which didn't spiral out of control and we wouldn't have people getting paid multi million pound bonuses for screwing up.
But hey whaddoo I know? I don't make the rules... nah, the banks make the rules, and that's the problem.
Now look, you made me rant
Del

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#7
In reply to #5

Re: Can Robots Take Over Manufacturing?

02/15/2011 4:46 AM

Too late Del, they are already there. Computer programmes that monitor if the share price drops below a pre-set threshold and trigger automatic sales. A system that inherently creates positive feedback and wide fluctuations in the stock market. But if you create a system where the share dealers get paid massive bonuses for gambling on price fluctuations, and nothing if a company has stock that stays stable, invests long term and pays good dividend, you could have predicted result that we got. Big Bang!, big raspberry more like.

Your post sounds as though this one of your hobby horses. Well mount up and ride along because it is certainly one of mine.

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#8
In reply to #7

Re: Can Robots Take Over Manufacturing?

02/15/2011 5:01 AM

Yeah, lets all ride into town and hit the saloon Yeeehah!
Del

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#9

Re: Can Robots Take Over Manufacturing?

02/15/2011 9:08 AM

As a direct answer to the 1st question - no. I think there will always be a place for human skills in manufacturing. We automation types sometimes underestimate the capabilities of the human hand and eye and mind as compared to what we can do with machinery and software.

Anyone remember "knotheads". They sit at the end of textile machinery and rush in to tie a knot in a thread when it breaks so machine down time is minimized. We (meaning industry, not personally) automated the break detection and even the knot tying but couldn't automate finding the ends. We couldn't automate it so the job went to a "low cost country".

Another example: I had a plant manager tell me if we could develop a robotic system to sort random parts passing by on conveyor into appropriate bins he'd buy multiples of them. The parts are all black and completely randomly positioned and there are over 100 varieties. People determine what they are looking at in milliseconds after a few minutes of training and can sort 10-20 per minute. Even IBM's watson would struggle to keep up. This may eventually be possible in the near future. but not in the (significant amount of) time I have left. I can think of lots of other examples.

My second answer is also no. If robots can do something better-faster-cheaper we say it frees people up to do the taks that require creativity. The lack of creativity part is where I think robots doing most everything is not good for industry or society. A robot operating in a lights out environment with no people will never innovate or even incrementally improve what it is doing. That takes human involvement and intervention. Faster and cheaper is not always better.

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#10

Re: Can Robots Take Over Manufacturing?

02/15/2011 9:30 AM

Who cares? I got a Roomba recently. What more could a single guy with carpet ask for?

Seriously, I've been hearing this particular lament since the 50's, and while automation has made significant inroads it still has a long way to go.

Besides, the gov't can't afford to pay us all to sit around doing nothing. We'll just watch as our pay erodes to the level of some 3rd world countries, til I can't afford to pay to recharge my Roomba.

Hooker <-- rambling resident cynic

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#13

Re: Can Robots Take Over Manufacturing?

02/15/2011 12:51 PM

We are moving towards a totally automated world. Some interesting essays about it here. "Work (labour) is an invention of man which has now become obsolete. "

Automate everything then there is no need to work, no need for money, humans will be free to do what they want. Write, compose, paint, explore or if they really like it....go to work. The only problem I see is getting from this money based system to a better one......peacefully.

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Anonymous Poster
#14

Re: Can Robots Take Over Manufacturing?

02/17/2011 1:11 PM

Ultimately, automation leads those left idle by it's encroachment on their livelihoods, to ponder the meaning of life. Or at least, what gives meaning to one's life.

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