According to the International Federation of Robotics, the automobile industry is the world’s biggest user of industrial robots. The automation in car factories, though, has come at a price. In the years 2000-2012, over half a million people working in automobile factories lost their jobs because they were replaced by robots.
One luxury car company, however, is now reversing the trend and re-thinking its production strategy. Mercedes-Benz has announced that it has already begun hiring human workers to replace its robotic ones, starting from its century-old plant in Sindelfingen, Germany.
The reason for this is the increased demand for ‘custom-built’ features in luxury cars. While robots are good at mechanical tasks, they cannot quite match the nimble-fingered skills that human workers have. Besides, their on-spot problem-solving abilities are comparatively much lower than those of their human counterparts.
Many customers ask for specific details in their car which would be impossible for a robot to incorporate, but a skilled human worker can quickly understand and deliver the demands of a ‘difficult client’.
Markus Schaefer, production head at Mercedes-Benz, said in an interview with Bloomberg, that with the many variants the company manufactures, it’s not possible for robots to deal with “the degree of individualization” the task requires. The variety is too much to take on for the robots, which can’t keep pace with the changes.”
For Mercedes-Benz, which processes 1500 tons of steel a day, and rolls out 400,000 vehicles in a year, the human investment is one they’re banking on paying off.