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Mercedes-Benz replaces robots with humans on its assembly lines

By midian182 · 11 replies
Feb 26, 2016
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  1. There are many articles that warn of the inevitable loss of jobs as robots become increasingly advanced and replace humans in certain industries. One of the most publicized of these is the car manufacturing sector, where machines have been making humans redundant for many years. But Mercedes-Benz, it seems, is doing the opposite; the German vehicle maker is replacing assembly robots with humans.

    A report from Bloomberg states that the robots cannot handle the complexity of the many customization options available on the company’s new S-Class sedan. These include carbon-fibre trims, heated and cooled cup holders, seat cover colors, various in-car technology, and even four different types of caps for the tire valves.

    Mercedes-Benz said that the robots take too long to reprogram and retool when adapting them for new production runs, so the company has hired more flexible and dexterous humans to complete the tasks.

    “Robots can’t deal with the degree of individualization and the many variants that we have today,” said Markus Schaefer, the firm's head of production. “We’re saving money and safeguarding our future by employing more people.”

    The robots are being replaced at the company’s biggest manufacturing plant, the 101-year old Sindelfingen factory in Germany, which produces 400,000 vehicles a year and processes 1500 tons of steel a day.

    Not all the robots will find themselves looking for new jobs. Many of the smaller machines will work in tandem with employees to perform some of the core repetitive tasks, with the more complex elements of production handled by the humans. The company is calling the processes of man and machine working side-by-side “robot farming.”

    While Mercedes-Benz’s decision doesn’t mean the trend of many jobs becoming automated will end, it does show that humans and robots working together can be more productive than machines working alone.

    “We’re moving away from trying to maximize automation with people taking a bigger part in industrial processes again,” said Schaefer. “We need to be flexible.”

    Permalink to story.

  2. VitalyT

    VitalyT Russ-Puss Posts: 4,478   +3,036

    Those robots are simply in development. It's just a good PR for Mercedes to boast human labor, with implication that their cars are hand-built (even though by 10%). The moment those robots become available, all those work places are gone.

    To me Mercedes as a manufacturer of quality cars died in 1999 when they stopped manufacturing W140 - the pinnacle of the car making, and replaced it with some crap they continue producing today.

    If some day I'm rich enough, I will get myself a fully restored W140, and screw all the new models they made since.

    P.S. I've had 3 W140-s over the years, 2 S320-s and 1 S600. Sold my last S320 about 9 years ago, regretted ever since.
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2016
  3. wiyosaya

    wiyosaya TS Evangelist Posts: 3,984   +2,286

    Until then, Mercedes had better pray that the remaining robots don't form a union and go on strike claiming that migrants are taking their jobs away :D

    Yes, one look at the reliability/repair history ratings in Consumer Reports resoundingly confirms this - yet people still buy Mercedes. I'm not quite in the bracket that Mercedes attracts, however, even if I were, I would consider it a much better value to look elsewhere.
  4. People buy them because they drive very well. I hear they've improved the reliability in recent years, but the early 2000 to 2010 models are evidently a dice roll: it's either bulletproof or a calamity, particularly the SUVs.
  5. Technician

    Technician TS Addict Posts: 677   +116

    You'd think they could figure out how to have multiple diverging lines for each option with a single bot on each line.
    The alternative is to have each car have a work order and each robot reset itself for the upcoming vehicle.
    It's not an impossible problem to solve, and I think it will be solved soon enough and the lights can be turned off again. :)
    I'd prefer a machine built car as opposed to a human built one. It's a tool for a use.
    I feel the opposite about musical instruments though.
    Some things are better when homogeneous and some are better individualized.
    I want every car of the same model to be the same, but I want to find an instrument with a character that fits my style.
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2016
    Reehahs likes this.
  6. Technician

    Technician TS Addict Posts: 677   +116

    You can grab up a used Benz for about the same as other brands, they devalue fast and no one likes the upkeep and repair costs.
    I don't recommend it though.
  7. Scott Barnes

    Scott Barnes TS Rookie

    It may be time to look back into Benz quality, myself and my cousin campaigned my 09 C300 sport W204 in the week long Targa Newfoundland. Over 5 full event days a prologue day 3600 race kilometers and one substantial jump the machine never missed a beat.

    I think we may have fouled a front wheel bearing on the jump but it hasn't presented enough of an issue to justify disassembling the front hubs. Many a sponsor backed professional race team fell by the wayside with mechanical troubles while merc just kept trotting along.
  8. DAOWAce

    DAOWAce TS Booster Posts: 292   +42

    In the future they'll just build it customized from scratch, on demand!
  9. Adhmuz

    Adhmuz TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,924   +712

    As long as the important things are still handled by the robots this makes little to difference in the quality, so humans are popping in the plastic trim and screwing on the valve stem covers, congrats, medium skilled laborers still have a place in the auto industry for now. Eventually I see Merc adopting the same policy as 90% of the other auto makers and just limited the amount of options you can choose, or making "packages" out of most of the equipment to allow a more stream lined assembly process.
  10. wiyosaya

    wiyosaya TS Evangelist Posts: 3,984   +2,286

    Which was pretty much my point. People will buy them for the prestige of the Mercedes name even though they have been a roll of the dice. To your point, even if you get a good deal on a used one, repair costs are still through the roof if you have to get one repaired. To me, the prestige is not worth the cost, and I bet that there are cars out there that ride just as well without the roll of the dice factor.
  11. Rieksfier

    Rieksfier TS Rookie

    The only people who believe Mercedes automobiles are a prestigous automobile are silly Americans. I thought they were too at one time until I took a trip to Berlin and saw that 99% of the cab drivers were driving Mercedes.
    wiyosaya likes this.
  12. Technician

    Technician TS Addict Posts: 677   +116

    I have seen equally silly Brits in them.
    Also Saudis seem to like them enough to gold plate them.

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