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Automation is Replacing Jobs, But Mechanical Engineers are Still on the Rise

The industrial automation industry is growing at a staggering rate, and this means massive changes on the horizon. Assembly automation trends indicate that by 2030, 8.5% of all manufacturing jobs will be performed by machines. Still, there is one group of workers that actually stands to benefit a great deal from this new wave of industry 4.0: mechanical engineers.

This naturally begs the question, “what about engineers makes them so important to automation?” The answer can be broken down into two parts. The first part is called the ‘O-ring’ theory of economic development. The second part is simply the creative power and versatility of the human brain. Here, we’ll discuss why automation is such a desirable choice for manufacturing companies, and why people are still a necessary part of the process (at least for the foreseeable future).

O-Ring Theory in Assembly Automation Industries

Female Electronics Factory Workers in Blue Work Coats and Protective Glasses Assemble Printed Circuit BoardsThe O-ring theory was developed by Michael Kremer in 1993, and refers to the catastrophic failure of the Challenger shuttle seven years earlier. While there are many parts and complexities to this theory, the relevant portion can be boiled down to this: As the efficiency and accuracy rise in performing a task necessary to complete a finished product, better performance is expected in all surrounding tasks. Because robots have a much higher productive capacity than humans in menial tasks, the O-ring theory states that they will naturally be replaced.

The current landscape of automation covers everything from assembly to inspection to metrology. This means that not only are the physical tasks of manufacturing able to be performed with unprecedented speed and accuracy, but measurements too. Where technicians once had to remove parts individually to track production, these tasks can be completed constantly. Visual inspection systems and interferometry even allow for contactless process monitoring.

However, while the routine operations and checks can easily be completed by machines, mechanical engineers have a far less standardized role. Responsibilities such as installation and maintenance will be different for every system. As a result, manufacturers need trained engineers with the knowledge and experience to make integration and service go smoothly. The journey of identifying a need, researching solutions, soliciting bids, and overseeing implementation can’t be automated (at least, not for the foreseeable future).

OEMs Make Solutions, Not Problem-Solvers

Robotic Arm for Automotive Industry Works in Large FacilityAutomation will vastly increase both the speed and quality of manufacturing, while also reducing the number of workers needed. But as mentioned above, that only applies when considering robots and humans competing head-to-head on a given task. Automation equipment suppliers can provide a machine that will sort and classify parts better than a worker. A human needs to make decisions about designing, controlling, and expanding the manufacturing process. Even as AI becomes more and more advanced, the best it can do is create iterative models that are tracked and guided by an engineer. Mechanical engineers will remain necessary because the challenges of creating an automated world will need to be solved with abstract, creative thinking.

Take for example a manual manufacturing line that an owner wants to automate. Even for a large company, it is highly unlikely they will opt to fully automate their process all at once. An engineer will be needed to conduct tests on what will benefit the most from automation, and choose between automation options. Depending on the particulars of the manufacturer, they will work with assembly machine manufacturers to find the best option. Today’s production lines can be fully automated, semi-automated, on manual with in-process verification. Deciding which one is best requires the planning skills and know-how to successfully implement turn-key solutions. Mechanical engineers are needed to solve these problems, which is why we can say confidently that these jobs are safe from automation.

Team of Engineers Lean Over Table, Analyze Machinery Blueprints, Consult Project on Tablet Computer+Vantages Automates with a Personal Touch

We know the importance of the people who make automation possible. That’s why we’ve spent 15 years fostering strong relationships with clients. With +Vantage, you’ll be working with a team of experienced experts in your automated metrology, automation, and systems integration.

No matter the size of your business, our experts will work with you to find the most effective system to streamline your process and increase your productivity. To learn how the +Vantage approach can benefit your manufacturing process, contact us today.

  • AUTHOR

    Eric Matchette

  • DATE

    June 1, 2021

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