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Manufacturing Automation Leads to Lower Costs, Higher Productivity

While the term “manufacturing automation” has struck fear in many workers’ hearts due to worries that their jobs will be eliminated, its effect is actually much more complicated — and has proven to be beneficial to employees as well as employers.

First of all, manufacturing automation means higher productivity — which has been obvious since 1913, when Ford Motor Co. introduced a car production assembly. Prior to that landmark year, cars were built by teams of skilled and unskilled workers. The assembly line and resulting mass production of cars were the first of their kind in the world, and they reduced auto assembly time from 12 hours per vehicle to about 1½ hours per car — improving Ford’s production rates and increasing its profits.[1]

In the 1920s, factory productivity increased rapidly due to electricity. By the 1930s, feedback controllers, a highly accurate electrical timer and protective relays came into use. During the Second World War, the focus was on advancements in industrial automation — particularly in the production of tanks, warships and fighter airplanes.[2]

By the 1980s, industrial engineers were captivated by the idea of “lights-out” manufacturing — meaning factories would be totally automated and robots would manage the entire process. While this goal has not yet been realized, today’s factory floors are home to a great deal of automation, including integrated manufacturing systems, smart sensors, high-speed information systems, cooperative robots, and the growing use of programmable automation controllers (PACs).[3]

End-to-end factory automation has been shown to double or even triple production compared to plants that use only a few automation systems. Not only that, but manufacturers can often keep equipment running for longer periods of time with comparatively little impact on the maintenance outlook. This allows companies to outpace even those competitors who produce much simpler or lower-quality goods.[4]

In addition to increasing productivity, manufacturing automation lowers costs. With it, manufacturers can simplify the complex process of fabricating a product to its most basic components. By continuously upgrading automation systems, they can make them as efficient as possible, so they generate little waste heat, use minimum power, and focus on controlled and precise movements. All this makes manufacturing cheaper, which cuts cost and raises profits.[5]

Workplace safety is also a significant benefit of manufacturing automation. When automation is deployed in a factory, it means team members no longer have to worry about the most dangerous and dirty tasks. Life-threatening processes are often the first to be delegated to robots, which reduces accidents and helps workers maintain their health over time.[6]

And finally, there’s a less obvious, but equally important, reason manufacturing automation is beneficial: Workers can focus on strategic, high-level tasks that fully utilize their expertise. While machines take care of tedious manual labor, manufacturing personnel can focus on improving shop-floor efficiency and expanding product capabilities, as well as many other complex tasks.[7]

As a result of that change in focus, a new class of manufacturing jobs is being created, offsetting the loss of low-skilled manual jobs. In one example in the United Kingdom, technology contributed to the loss of 800,000 jobs between 2001 and 2015, but it helped create 3.5 million new jobs during the same time period.[8]

You can see and learn about the latest in automation and robotics, as well as other advanced manufacturing technologies, at SME’s Smart Manufacturing Experience 2020, scheduled for June 2-4 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh.  It’s the perfect opportunity to explore how leading companies are using transformative technologies to boost productivity, increase sales, improve efficiency and reduce costs.


[1] “The History of Industrial Automation in Manufacturing,” Fabrice Boisset, Kingstar, May 9, 2018,

[2] “A Brief History of Automation,” PHC, Sept. 7, 2016,

[3] “A Brief History of Automation,” PHC, Sept. 7, 2016,

[4] “A Brief History of Automation,” PHC, Sept. 7, 2016,

[5] “Benefits of Manufacturing Automation,” Robotic Industries Association, Jan. 24, 2017,

[6] “Benefits of Manufacturing Automation,” Robotic Industries Association, Jan. 24, 2017,

[7] “Benefits of Manufacturing Automation,” Robotic Industries Association, Jan. 24, 2017,

[8] “Talent for Survival: Essential Skills for Humans Working in the Machine Age,” Angus Knowles-Cutler and Harvey Lewis, Deloitte LLP, 2016,