Artificial Intelligence has been touted as the inevitable job killer, but it’s only software and we used to call it automation. Sensors monitor things and activate circuits according to programming instructions.
Automation has been with us for a while. It is the primary strategy we use to increase productivity. It is often very expensive to implement and maintain, so it is limited to high volume operations and in products whose value justifies the cost.
In 1965, when I graduated from St. Louis University and took my first day job on the staff of United Way in St. Louis, we had an IBM computer to update our prospect records from the tape version of the reverse telephone directories.
In 1967, I took my first Personnel job at Kearny National in St. Louis and learned how to handle recruiting, employment and compensation.
In 1968, when I went to work for Monsanto Chemical in St. Louis, I pushed for job enrichment for the clerical staff and worked on the team to make unions unnecessary.
In 1971, when I went to work for Washington University in St. Louis, one of my projects was to automate personnel data to automate HEW reporting and administrative processes.
In 1975, when I went to work for Schwan Foods, I replaced the timecards and keys with magnetic swipe cards. I replaced clock round security guards with a base station and security car. I had a PC built to run the ammonia refrigeration and other sensors and cameras. I led efforts to automate the food processing plant and promoted assemblers to machine operators. We had a no layoff policy, a robust training program and filled jobs from within. Automation allowed us to quadruple our sales.
I continued to pursue productivity increase strategies throughout my career as a Personnel Director and later, in 1993, when I opened my private consulting practice.
Most automation in manufacturing resulted from the need to control product quality and increase productivity, not reduce labor cost, although that does occur.
In the auto industry, the automated welding machines solved the welding quality problems and changed how design work was done, eliminating the number of parts. Composite materials have allowed us to eliminate rust and simplify design and manufacturing. The use of clear-coat paint improved its durability. The lifespan and fuel efficiency of automobiles have tripled. The development of the hybrid engine has revolutionized automobiles.
In the electronics industry, automatic insertion machines placed electrical components on circuit boards accurately and with lightning speed. Adding schematic capture to CAD software allowed the bill of materials to be taken from CAD drawings. Adding CIM (computer integrated manufacturing) allowed the drawing to direct milling machines and eliminated extra steps.
In the machining industries, laser reading coordinate measuring devices are loaded with design drawings used to inspect machined parts.
High speed automation allows Huggies to supply diapers to huge mass markets from highly automated facilities that employ 750 trained technicians.
Lean manufacturing techniques were perfected in the US in the 1990s. These highly automated plants were designed to function in the US.
When these plants return, those companies will ensure that training is available. This happened in the 1980s, when electronic assemblers streamed through 1 year community college programs.
Norb Leahy, Dunwoody GA Tea Party Leader