While companies across the world are increasingly turning toward robots to make the manufacturing process less labor-intensive and more efficient, German carmaker Mercedes-Benz seems to be going the opposite way. According to a recent announcement, the company is planning to replace some of the robots on the production line of its Sindelfingen plant with humans. The move is intended to rectify the robots’ failure to handle the various customization options involved in the making of the Mercedes S-Class.
Machines, until now, were entrusted with the task of manufacturing all of Mercedes’ cars, without any help from humans. However, with increasing customization options available to buyers of luxury vehicles, robots are becoming less equipped to handle the production process, making human intervention necessary. Speaking about the decision to employ more humans on the production line, Markus Schaefer of Mercedes-Benz said:
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. We’re moving away from trying to maximize automation with people taking a bigger part in industrial processes again. We need to be flexible. The variety is too much to take on for the machines. They can’t work with all the different options and keep pace with changes.
The move, which the company is calling “robot farming”, aims to introduce smaller and more lightweight robots that are capable of working alongside humans to the assembly line. At present, the plant at Sindelfingen produces more than 400,000 cars every year, each of which takes around 61 hours to complete. By replacing some of the machines with humans, the company is hoping to reduce the time taken to make one of its vehicles by 50-percent.
It currently takes several weeks to reprogram the robots in accordance with changing assembly patterns. By comparison, humans can alter the production line over a single weekend, making customization of the cars less time-consuming. Robots, however, will continue to play a major role in automobile manufacturing.