Listen: Even In The Robot Age, Manufacturers Need The Human Touch
"Support for NPR comes from investor dot gov. Presenting this message when it comes to investing. We all have questions and investor dot gov has answers, it's your free resource for tools. Tips and information about investing before you. Invest investor dot gov. Well, bots have revolutionized auto manufacturing. But they've hardly replaced the human touch and Pierce cumulative domino ski reports. And volvo's. New plant and ridgeville, South Carolina. A half dozen robot arms move in coordination behind a sif defense their spot welding cars body together. Eventually, this will be an Esa sixty a luxury sedan. A small cluster of sparks flies up. We are at the very start of the production line. Were metal components are combined to form the car's body here automation dominates. There are more robots than people in this building. And right here where the robots are welding roofs, together, it's dimly lit robots. Don't need much light to work. Jeff Moore is the head of manufacturing for Volvo in America. He says when you're thinking about what jobs to assigned to a robot you start with work. That's repetitive. Especially if there are safety concerns with all the the heat and sparks and the high current and things like that associated with welding that's a natural spot to be looking at where you can more heavily automate but follow the car body is moves down the assembly line and soon enough the lights come up and humans takeover at the other end of this building people run their hands over the surface of the metal healing for imperfections. There are some things robots are better at than people their precise and consistent. But there are other things. People are better at humans are underrated. Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted last year after tesla tried to switch to an extremely automated system. Ultimately, the company gave jobs back to people and we're good at more than just testing. How things look and feel here at the Volvo plant in another vast building a long line of people are preparing engines to go inside the cars, this work involves a lot of fiddly parts with odd shapes which need to be threaded together or moved around in complex ways, robots are bad at these fine motor skills. People are great at it. And this line handles, different engines gas or hybrid all wheel drive, eventually electric Motors. They all take different parts, humans are good. Switching back and forth. Robots? Not so much Jason dodgems working on this line used to work at a plant that made bearings. That was less hands on. He says. The actual labor party. You were basically doing the inspection. This has a lot more manual labor to problem solving. Skip ahead down the line and workers have put together the engine transmission axles, everything to make the car go. The car body is waiting on an elevated conveyor. Now, the two need to come together. Trae yawns helped set up blind where this marriage happens. It just radiator is not pushed back for. No, it will crash the body and first workers had to fix the placement again. And again now a robot could see that problem, but it won't get annoyed by it. People got tired of doing it in a fellow came up with an idea, and he points to a little yellow piece of plastic it holds the radiator in place to prevent that crash Geoff Moore says Volvo has already applied for multiple patents based on ideas that teams from workers at this new plant. Humans have strengths compared to robots and all sorts of workplaces not just auto plants and in general people in robots work best together with robots handling dangerous, monotonous jobs and precision work while people switch between tasks and make decisions, and there's a sort of philosophical lesson here. Susan helper is an economist at case Western Reserve University. People often think of manufacturing workers is actually a poor substitute for a robot people complain, they get tired, so gee, wouldn't robust be better. That's a fundamental misunderstanding. She says, but in practice, these things are really difficult and the assembly line worker is making judgments a lot. And it turns out that when you take that person away you end up with some problems that are hard to solve historically helper. Says some factories have tried to treat their workers like robots doing repetitive work without thinking the best thing robots can do is not replace. People but free them up to work like people domino. Sqi NPR news. Ridgeville carolina."