There is a good post on the MIT Tech Review site about Audi production methods and the continuing evolution of robotic technology in manufacturing. It’s worth a read simply to see how the role of robotics continues to expand and evolve in the best manufacturing companies.
As the authors note:
Hubert Hartmann, head of the A3 body shop at Ingolstadt, calls it the most modern factory floor of its kind. “It is like a Swiss watch, with the same level of precision,” he says as machinery whirs nearby with preprogrammed exactness. While most auto plants use robots for welding and other dangerous tasks, Audi marries a high level of automation with a multitude of other advanced manufacturing technologies, including low-power lasers driven by optical sensors; innovative combined bonding and welding, which saves both production time and car weight; and regenerative braking in lift and conveyor systems to reduce energy costs.
As always, it’s interesting to note that Germany continues to be a powerhouse in manufacturing, using automation to balance social costs that would be unacceptable here in the U.S.:
Despite relatively high wages, long vacations, and strong labor laws and regulations, Germany remains a global leader in many manufacturing sectors. Last year, automotive and industrial exports helped the country post a record trade surplus of 198.9 billion euros ($269 billion). One reason: automation. Contemporary German auto manufacturing exploits advanced manufacturing technologies to increase productivity and profits. As a result, manufacturing employment has dropped. Between 1970 and 2012, the proportion of German employment in manufacturing fell by half, to around 20 percent (nearly double the U.S. share).
Another takeaway from the piece is the continuing push of robotics to eliminate human labor. The robots at this one Audi plant eliminated about 800 human jobs, and more jobs will surely be added to that total. It’s yet another sign of the “fragility,” to use Nicholas Taleb’s phrase, of much of human labor, something universities and younger workers need to keep in mind as they look decades into the working future.