Restructuring of the automobile industry through the use of robotics

Ford Motor Company founder Henry Ford invented the assembly line, a factory layout in which work passes from one operation to the next until workers (who remain stationary) finish the product. In 1913, Ford installed the first moving assembly line in one of his automobile manufacturing plants. By the late 20th century, however, people began to recognize the negative aspects of the assembly line, including injuries caused by repetitive stress and the ridiculing of the worker who could not keep pace of their job. Henry Ford wanted “”… drudgery off flesh and blood and lay it on steel and motors” and he somewhat successfully accomplished machine doing the hard work previously done by man alone.

Automation improves the level of production and competence of certain industries. It is in this regard that industrial robotic systems have been conceptualized. This technological breakthrough is of great help to a lot of businesses. Linking the word industry to the robotic system simply means that the gadget has special mechanisms that will actually make it work for specific business types. Industrial robotics improve competence and production for manufacturers. Today computers are of great importance in the industry. With no computers there could be no industry today for the most important reasons, the price for manufacturing a single unit would probably be much higher than an entire hour of production. Computers with all their automated processes they can build anything faster than ever with greater quality and precision and can even make it with less costs because of all the technology they possess. They are even more important than men in the production process. You can have a computer to build a car almost all by itself. The only place where the computer cannot touch yet is inside the car. Robots were initially retained to perform precise welding chores and other repetitive tasks that humans had long found boring, monotonous and injurious. By using robots to weld, handle dangerous objects and place items, auto manufacturers were able to ensure a consistent product with a minimum of worker injury. Currently, 50 percent of all robots in use today are used in automobile manufacture. To make a robot work, a computer program is installed on its controller computer. This provides a set of precise instructions–based on geometry and carefully timed–that tells the robot where to place things, how to rotate them, where to weld and how to perform all of its other functions. Robots do not think for themselves, and must rely on humans to provide instructions. Robots also can work in more extreme environments on their own, or they can work alongside humans, assisting them in their day-to-day jobs–such as moving or rotating a car so humans can work on parts of it that would normally be difficult to reach. Almost all manufacturing robots are single arms with computer controls, and do not look like a typical science-fiction “robot.”

Robots have been a boon to the auto-manufacturing industry. They have significantly reduced worker injuries, including repetitive stress injuries and more significant mishaps that can do major harm. Additionally, the robots turn out a more consistent product at a significantly cheaper cost than can humans. In the 1970s, American auto manufacturers were maligned for the poor quality and bad engineering of their vehicles. Currently, robotic-assisted auto manufacturing allows a car to be made with much more precise welds, closer tolerances and more accurate engineering overall than could be achieved with human help. Finally, robots save on the cost of labor: There are no sick days, strikes, work slowdowns or other problems that can crop up with humans. Robots can, in fact, work around the clock with a minimum of human supervision.


As manufacturing becomes more automated, there will be less need for human workers in the auto industry. Currently, humans still work alongside robots for many reasons, most important of which is the ability of people to reach areas the larger robot arms cannot. As robotics technology improves, it is conceivable that the auto industry will become fully automated or employ human workers only sporadically. In the future, positions in the auto-manufacturing industry (at least in production facilities) will probably entail dealing with the robots themselves and not the cars or trucks; repair, programming and maintenance of robots will still need to be done by humans.

Ford Motor Company founder Henry Ford (1863-1947) invented the assembly line, a factory arrangement in which work passes from one operation to the next until workers (who remain stationary) complete the product. In 1913, ten years after he founded the Ford Motor Company, Ford installed the first moving assembly line in one of his automobile manufacturing plants, this innovation allowed cars to be produced quickly and efficiently. By the late twentieth century, however, people began to recognize the negative aspects of the assembly line, including repetitive motion injuries and the dehumanization of the worker who could not control the pace of his or her job.

Human systems have undergone change at a remarkable rate, and the

development of new technologies has aided in such transformations. One area of the economy that felt the effects of technological advancements is the automobile industry

The idea of employing a mass number of individuals to assist with the production of

gasoline automobiles dates back to the car’s invention at the end of the nineteenth century.

In North America, Henry Ford not only built a company, but also built a culture

around automobile production.

Technological advancements in the late 1970s and early 1980s brought a new outlook to the automobile industry. The development of the robot for manufacturing marked the beginning of change in this booming industry. Robots opened a world of possibilities for manufacturing plants. These wonder machines could assemble cars and car parts at a much greater rate of precision and at a much faster speed than the average human.

From the company’s standpoint, robots could significantly cut down on labor costs by requiring fewer employees. Since production efficiency is constantly in the interest of a company, the use of robotics provided the perfect solution for large automobile producers.

When robots were first developed, their main usage was in automobile plants. “Workers were in short supply, and few could be found to do dangerous or dirty jobs. Unlike Japan, the United States only gradually introduced robots into the manufacturing plant, because they were not facing a potential economic crisis.

American companies accelerated the switch to the new technology when they realized the ease of change that came with the new technology. Americans have a high demand for variety and change and automobile sales increase when cars are offered with hundreds of options. When using old manufacturing techniques, creating such options was a large ordeal that required slow equipment and labor changes inside the factory. Robotics eliminated this nuisance.

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W]ith their computerized reprogram-ability, flexible machines such as robots are

capable of producing a variety of new products, or old products produced in new ways.

The key advantage of such flexibility is that is obviates the need to scrap fixed capital in

order to produce new products. Instead, machines can simply be reprogrammed, thereby extending their technical life. (Gertler 420)

The ability to make changes almost effortlessly is a great benefit to the automobile company,especially to those in America. In addition to this, robots can switch from one task to another without any downtime. Since they lack the needs of a human, they provide a steadier flow of work, which ultimately raises the efficiency of automobile production.

Despite the positive changes to the automobile industry during the 1970s and 1980s, there were some negative effects, caused primarily by the US auto manufacturers’ hesitation to implement the new technology. Most were felt outside of the manufacturing plant, creating financial problems on a familial and a national level. Although new jobs were ultimately created during this switch, the downturn in demand and production and the eventual turnover of jobs left many unskilled workers in the manufacturing plants unemployed. This was a major problem in the United States and by the early 1980s, the United States automobile industry was suffering.

The pressure Japan placed on the global market competition led the United States into poor planning strategies that led to this widespread unemployment and financial crises. The general situation is discussed in an article about the auto crisis. It states; “…literally hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs; communities dependent on the industry have suffered devastating losses in employment and financial resources; all the domestic producers have suffered major financial losses; large facilities have permanently closed” (Abernathy 10).

The shift to technology, which went over with little flaws ten years earlier in Japan, put a large amount of pressure on the United States.

An explanation for the increasing unemployment levels in the United States can be linked

to Japan’s newfound success in the automobile industry. Japan was flourishing, according to a

Japanese Robotics Article, and this was one of the causes for the United States’ problem. “At the

end of 1982, Japan’s robot population was triple that of the United States and Japan’s robot

producers seemed positioned to dominate this strategic new industry. Underlying this early success was an elaborate set of government policies…” (Lynn 16).

The overall success of theJapanese economy and automobile industry placed a great pressure on the United States to catch up to the Japanese production level. In order to do this, the West needed to shift to efficient,robotic, production techniques.

Politics were inevitably involved in the high turnover rates of automobile manufacturing

plants that left many unemployed. Most of the assembly line workers in the United States were part of a union. When they switched to robotics that required specialized technicians, the current workers expressed interest in advancing their skills to remain employed. Companies saw the switch as a way to escape the rigorous demands of union workers. They had two main motivations to fire current workers instead of retrain them.

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This is discussed in the Post-Fordism article. “The desire to reduce the union’s presence on the shop floor and the attempt to gradually purge from the workforce those workers with ‘memory’ of a unionized employment relation, to reduce the risk of future unionization of jobs outside the bargaining unit [motivated the companies]” (Gertler 427)

The automobile companies took a selfish perspective on the restructuring of the industry. They favored new workers over the old, reliable workers who counted on the to money to support their families. They were motivated by the decrease in labor costs that occurred from the introduction of robots.

This shows how politics and self-interest can ruin what could be an easy transition into a new style of production. Workers left their old jobs on bad terms, which could have influenced their decision when purchasing a new car. This could indirectly hurt the automobile industry, because they could lose a whole market of potential

buyers. Additionally, the robots that replaced the labor cannot purchase the automobiles they helped build. They have no sense of loyalty to their company, since they are not real people. As a result of this, the economy suffers because there are not as many loyal employees to purchase the cars that are being sold.

Another negative economic impact of the use of robotics is in the social security system.

In 1981, the government declared a social security crisis. “As conditions in the U.S. economy worsened in the late 1970s (inflation) and the early 1980s (recession with high unemployment), increasingly strong political and economic interests became invested in defining Society Security as a system facing crisis” (Estes 447). Essentially, the system was in trouble because there were not enough workers paying into the system and there was an increasing number of retirees drawing from the system. Part of this problem was a result of the automation of the automotive industry. When manufacturing plants switched to robots, they inevitably had to cut back on the number of workers.

The combinations of these negative effects make the questioning of this technological advancement legitimate. Are the robots really better than manual labor?

VI. Conclusion

Overall, the restructuring of the automobile industry through the use of robotics has led

to many positive and negative changes to countries across the world. Developing countries have benefited from the relocation of factories. Developed countries have suffered from the switch in labor and the decrease in employee loyalty, but fortunately, in the three decades since the introduction of robotics, the automobile industry has adjusted. Families have found alternative jobs, and the financial crisis has decreased for the most part. People across the world have benefited from the safer cars that the more efficient and precise robots build. The safety issue alone is reason one cannot deny that the restructuring of the industry has brought some good to the world. As life continues onwards, and the long-range economic fallout becomes more apparent, the exact nature of the effects created by this shift can be decided.

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