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Automation in Manufacturing



This past week I was interviewed by one of Indium’s most prevalent bloggers, Jim Hisert. A discussion of his interviewing process will come as he posts the interview. What I am writing on today is a discussion that stemmed from that interview.

How often do you hear the practically Luddite argument that we should resist automation because it displaces employment? Though there are specific situations where this is true, it cannot be broadly applied to all manufacturing. For example, at Indium Corporation's BPD facility (the operation that produces solder preforms) one of the largest limiting factors is how fast solder preforms can be packaged. Several years ago, Indium implemented the use of automated machines.  These machines are capable of rapidly manipulating some of the smallest preforms produced.  Previous to the implementation of these machines, the parts were packaged by hand.

Once this task was expedited by the use of the automation, the time it took to perform the bottleneck operation was reduced. This reduced time then allowed for more material to be produced. This uptick in capability naturally ushered in an increase in production, thus the hiring of new personnel. Therefore, not only did automation not cost anyone their job, it actually created jobs!

Though these machines are extremely helpful, they will never replace our operators. This is due to the versatility of the human mind versus the rigidity of machine programming. Virtually every day a size or shape of preform that has never been produced is made at BPD, each of these needing to be designed, analyzed, and processed. This very nature of Indium Corporation makes our operators completely irreplaceable by automation.

In conclusion, automation is not something to be feared. Better processes lead to better products which lead to better devices which should lead to better standards of living. Because the alleged “downside” has been debunked (thanks, Indium Corporation), hopefully this argument will be put to rest.

Until next time,

Sean McKenna