My marketing director, a keen petrol head, sent me this YouTube link showing how robotic automation works in a BMW factory. It bought to mind the seminal Fiat Strada advertisement from 1979 – thirty three (yes, 33) years ago. As an aside, I always wondered what the association was between an Italian car and the Barber of Seville. Never mind. Equally, never mind that the cars fell apart frequently, or that the production team turned up to film, only to find striking workers blockading the factory. These were pioneering days of the robotic car plant.
Whilst the British automotive industry went bust, was nationalised, privatised, and sold to Japanese and Germans for 2’6″, other parts of the world took the concept of robotics and improved it so that cars were cheaper and faster to design and build, more reliable, more flexible (I’ll spare you a long spiel about mass customisation) and more appealing to consumers.
What is interesting from the BMW clip is that robots can’t do everything. Work is constantly handed off to real people before returning the automated line. Another thing that grabbed my attention was the detailed process design that maximises the robots’ effectiveness by preparing the work for them. For example, somebody had to design the car build process in such a way that all the painted bits hang together so the robots can spray without having to use masking tape etc.
I think this is something that the clerical back office is only just starting to learn about. But the economic case is bound to be just as compelling.