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Successful man-machine collaboration

AI (Artificial Intelligence) is feared to replace most jobs, not only within typical manufacturing industries. Almost by every day AI is getting better at diagnosing disease, translating languages, providing customer service and even more. This is to many causing reasonable concerns that AI ultimately will replace human workers throughout the economy. But recent research shows that humans might never be replaced in the industry. In a new book authors Paul Daugherty and H. James Wilson share research from 1500+ organisations (mostly manufacturers), from all over the world. The book Human + Machine was published in August of 2018 at Harvard Press and tells stories of how complete automation in very many instances have outright failed to reach targeted production levels. One more infamous example is how Tesla built an entirely automated facility to make their Model 3 car – the so-called Alien Dreadnought factory. The production never even came close to the set goals and Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla said afterwards:

Yes, excessive automation at Tesla was a mistake. To be precise, my mistake. Humans are underrated.

Working collaboration

And when looking at many different industries the results are mostly the same, H. James Wilson* says.

– Enterprises that redesigned jobs around human plus machines collaboration outperformed automaters by more than three times. In our global study of companies we found that the greatest performance gains are achieved not when machines are used to replace employees, but when they are deployed to work alongside them. In such places and industries, people help machines become better and machines enable people to achieve significant increases in performance. BMW for example has found that human machine teams are about 85 percent more productive than its previous automated car assembly setups in certain parts of its operations. And it’s not just happening in the automotive industry. It’s really everywhere, across industries, for example in health industry, he adds.

Even if AI radically will alter how work gets done and who does it, the larger impact will be in complementing and augmenting human capabilities, rather than replacing them. Factory jobs will of course change, but never totally vanish. Industry production will need different kinds of skill. The availability of more data will need human intelligence to figure out how to use it. It will be more important to ask the right questions in the near future, according to H J Wilson.

– How do you write a job description in business that uses AI?

New methods

Consistent with industrial changes in the past, technology innovation always generates new ways to work. A recent PwC report found that robotics and AI probably would mean a net gain of 200,000 jobs by 2037 in the United Kingdom alone. AI, machine learning and automation create jobs because of the specialisation needed.

A good example on human-machine collaboration is “cobots”, robots that can work alongside humans. They increase employee safety as well as speed and accuracy on manufacturing lines. Another example is exoskeletons, allowing humans to do heavier work, with lower risks and more precision. Other solutions help with decision-making and monitoring, for example the use of AR (Augmented Reality) glasses by supervisors.

Need of new skill

Factory jobs will inevitably change, but not disappear. Jobs will become more skilled, focused on asking the right questions and identifying the big issues. The availability of more data will need more human intelligence to figure out how to use it.

If you look at different steps of the manufacturing process, you can already see how AI and robotics are changing the need of skill. AI is helping in materials science; the drafting board of tomorrow could be an AR or VR headset. On-demand decentralised manufacturing and blockchain projects are working on the complexities of integrating suppliers. AR, wearables and exoskeletons will augment human capabilities on the factory floor. Modular equipment and custom machines like 3D printers are enabling manufacturers to handle greater demand for variety. Software and blockchain technology will more quickly be able to identify problems (and implement swift changes in production). Telematics, IoT (Internet of Things) and autonomous vehicles will bring greater efficiency for manufacturers delivering their products.

But still – successful collaboration between humans and machines is the key to enable manufacturing facilities to be more lean and clean and therefore more competitive. A recent report from A.T. Kearney reported that 72 percent of manufacturing jobs are still performed by people. Those same people actually drive three times more value than their machine counterparts. Even with more parts of the manufacturing process becoming automated, no machine will ever be able to replace human judgement and intuition in lean production.

For Lean Clean Green //Gunnar Fägersten Novik


*H James Wilson is managing director of IT and Business Research at Accenture Research and co-author of the book Human + Machine.









And an interesting webinar on the subject: