Advantages and disadvantages of automation

by Sree Rama Rao on February 17, 2006

Automate or die is the slogan of many producers all over the World. Increased productivity, reduced cost, better quality, elimination of wastage and inefficiency etc these are the essential requirements for any owner of an Industrial establishment so that he may successfully face competition. Those days are gone when whatever was produced found a ready market; in times to come, only the producers with the best performance will survive, and the best performance will be possible only through automation.

Moreover, technological changes are a historical inevitability; and automation is the ultimate stage which Aristotle dreamt of when he said in his Politics. �There is only one condition in which we can imagine managers not needing subordinates and masters not needing slaves. This condition would be such that each instrument could do its own work at a word of command or by intelligent anticipation.

The advantages of automation are:

Increased Output and Enhanced Productivity

Automation results in enhanced productivity and production because it increases the speed of production, eliminates production bottlenecks, reduces “dead time “(the time a machine is not working due to certain factors like lack of cutters, fixtures or materials).

Improved and Uniform Quality

The quality of production is immeasurably improved because the entire production process, beginning with raw materials and ending with end products, is handled by machines .There is uniformity in the quality of the products—a factor which earns or spoils the customer’s goodwill.

Reduced Cost

Automation results in reduced total cost per unit of output. It is evident that after automation, the manufacturing cost is reduced by 34 percent per unit. The saving in the cost is mainly due to the virtual elimination of labor.

Fewer Accidents

Automation results in a virtual elimination of labor and therefore reduced number of accidents.

Better Production Control

Automation results in better control of the speed and flow of production as a result of highly mechanical sequencing.

Lost Prerogatives Gained

Fortunately or unfortunately for society, the greatest attraction is that machines can be controlled better than men. Management is attempting to regain some of its traditional prerogatives lost through successive years of union contract negotiations.

Dangerous and Unpleasant Tasks

The tasks of cutting work to the lathe which produces an ear-splitting sound. The painters who have to cover the whole face except their eyes. In the task of machinery where oil seeps right through the clothes and skin. These operations are now handled by Robots. It is predicted that the Robot will be performing many public and welfare jobs in the coming years. Some functions like fighting fires, working in garbage dumps removing snow etc will be done by the Robots. The day is not far off when robots will step outdoors to carry out tasks under dangerous conditions.

Others

The other advantages which flow from automation include reduced inventories, greater operating flexibility, and reduced lead time, reduced scrap, improved reliability and design freedom.

Disadvantages

Automation creates certain problems which must be borne in mind by the management .These problems are:

Heavy Capital Investment

Automation involves higher capital outlay, and the consequential problems of the cost of capital, depreciation power consumption, etc. Automation is therefore, a luxury for small firms.

Displacement of Labor

In spite of assurances to the contrary, automation does not result in worker replacement, and often in management replacement as well. Workers in unions oppose the move for automation .The LIC installed five computers successfully. The Trade Unions installed one of the computers in the Bombay office .The Trade Unions also saw to it that no LIC employee was retrenched because of the automation .They are still unhappy due to the installment of the Computer in the Bombay office, due to which ,future employee opportunities have been closed in that office

Benefit of Employee Suggestion Lost

Labor being displaced, the benefit of suggestions from employees is lost .This is an irreparable loss to the management.

Tighter specification may be needed

In an un-automated factory, when there are slight deviations from the specifications of the materials that have been received, workers are still able to use them after making minor adjustments. This can never be done in an automated plant because machines are not as flexible as human beings .Inevitably; increasingly automation will bring demands on suppliers to adhere more rigidly to specifications .This may raise the costs of purchased materials slightly. It may also increase the probability of supply failure due to poor quality

Costs of Supply Failure Increase

If the supplier fails to deliver the goods in time or stock of the material is exhausted, the inevitable result is to shut down the plant. The cost of shut-down in an automated plant is far more than that of a non-automated plant. In the latter case, workers can be sent home, and in the former case the workers can be sent home because they are very few. Substitute for the Workers is a tremendous investment as the equipment goes on depreciating, whether it is being used or not.

Slack Season would be Disastrous

Automation results in increased production if increased production does not find a ready market, the prices will fall and the result will be disastrous. The management should, therefore, be sensitive to the demands .Automation based on a hopeful market expansion is a direct road to bankruptcy.

Dehumanization

Automation, carried to its logical end, dehumanizes the plant and generates a peculiar atmosphere in it. True, it offers several advantages .It is also true that an automated plant frees the management from labor troubles .At the same time, it should not be forgotten that the employment of thousands of persons in a single plant carries its own charm and gives a sense of pride and satisfaction in achievement which hundreds of computers and robots cannot.

Problem of Developing Countries

Automation poses certain peculiar problems for developing countries .These countries are characterized by a high rate of unemployment, scarcity of foreign exchange, shortage of highly skilled personnel, shortage of capital, etc. All these are impediments in the introduction of new technology. Not that automation has any relevance in developing countries .In fact; it has a definite role to play in these countries as well. It is expected to stimulate agricultural industrial and other development, because mass production will create more demand for raw materials and components, and in the process, will help generate employment in the long run. Goods and services will be produced at lower unit costs, promoting greater consumption and improved levels of living .But the developing countries cannot, for some more time to come, afford the luxury of automation as it is understood and introduced in highly developed countries Selective automation to ensure accuracy, if not speed may be more relevant in the developing companies, where automation without tears is a cry which should be needed and respected for sometime to come.





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