Mercedes reduce robot presence on assembly lines
A rare victory for mankind in the eternal Man V Machine war.
Mercedes Benz have switched their focus to vehicle customisation in a bid to woo modern consumers, and with this has come the realisation that the flexibility and dexterity of human workers is essential to keeping up with demand and standards.
Mercedes Benz offer their S-class sedan with an ever-growing range of options such as carbon fibre trim, heated and cooled cup-holders and four types of caps for the tire valves, and this is just one example of a model that cannot be made solely by robotics. Markus Schaefer, head of production at Mercedes said at their factory in Sindelfingen, Germany: “Robots can’t deal with the degree of individualization and the many variants that we have today. We’re saving money and safeguarding our future by employing more people.”
While robot workers won’t completely disappear, they will increasingly become smaller, more flexible and operate alongside human workers rather than set off behind safety fences, or operate in lieu of human workers. The drive behind the change is mainly versatility. While robots are good at reliability – repeatedly performing defined tasks in the same mechanical way each time – they are not good at adapting. “The variety is too much to take on for the machines,” said Schaefer. “They can’t work with all the different options and keep pace with changes,” he said.
Henry Ford once famously quipped that customers could have any colour they wanted… as long as it was black. That kind of mentality is what Mercedes are pushing back against with this innovation. In the upcoming future, the company plan to add 30 models by the end of the decade, including 10 new styles, as well as offering these in customisable options such as bamboo trim, interior fragrances and illuminating the iconic Mercedes star. “We’re moving away from trying to maximize automation with people taking a bigger part in industrial processes again,” said Schaefer. “We need to be flexible.” Flexibility, for Mercedes, is to be found in the capable hands of a human worker.