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Humans Steal Robot Jobs In Mercedes-Benz Factory

Mercedes-Benz's largest auto plant is removing some robots from its assembly lines in order to accommodate an expanded workforce.

Conventional wisdom long suggested that factories will increasingly rely on automation and robots in coming years โ€” likely at the expense of human workers.

The rapidly evolving auto industry, however, could put a dent in those forecasts.

Bloomberg reports that Mercedes-Benz's largest auto plant is instead removing some robots from its assembly lines in order to accommodate an expanded workforce.

Although robots can perform one consistent task at a rate that would be unfathomable to a regular plant worker, they can't adapt on the fly to changing plant conditions.

And as automakers react to a changing marketplace, they increasingly need to turn over models faster, create new models sooner and offer a broader array of features to discerning car buyers.

โ€œThe variety is too much to take on for the machines,โ€ Markus Schaefer, Mercedes-Benz's head of production, told Bloomberg. โ€œThey canโ€™t work with all the different options and keep pace with changes.โ€

The automaker's Sindelfingen plant in southwest Germany can overhaul a human production line over a weekend, while reprogramming robots to do the same thing would take weeks.

Instead of deploying an assembly line using large robotic arms to put cars together, Mercedes-Benz officials now envision a plant where humans work side-by-side with smaller and safer robots to provide more flexibility and efficiency.

The Sindelfingen plant eventually hopes to be able to produce one car in 30 hours; in 2005, it took 61 hours to make a car at the facility.

Schaefer told Bloomberg that the transition saves money โ€” an unexpected turn given rising labor costs and the increasing ease of automation โ€” and that the addition of human workers is "safeguarding our future."

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