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The Automation Debate: Manufacturing and Construction

To any business in the modern day, the topic of automation is one that’s loaded with assumptions, uncertainty, and even controversy. Everyone is going to have a different opinion on it, and that opinion is going to be affected by their personal experiences, their subjective views, and the industry that they operate within. This makes it difficult to know where to begin, but it’s worth focusing on a landscape that is often used to dealing with a great deal of machinery in the course of any given day, such as that of manufacturing and construction.

With the debate more localized, you can begin to look at the multiple angles and opinions of it, and forming your own perspective on how you might approach the matter for your business.

Fig: An automation on construction Industries

1.    What About Your Employees?

In Argument of Automation

It’s difficult to put yourself in any position that might mean that you’re siding against your loyal employees on a topic that could see them losing out on professional opportunities. You might be keenly aware of how many people are struggling to find work, but it’s worth examining every angle of automation concerning the issue of unemployment.

To start with, one popular argument for automation in some professions comes from the amount of danger that working with them might threaten a human employee, and taking people out of situations where they have to endanger themselves is easy to see positively. Furthermore, it isn’t just the dangerous jobs, as some would also be the kind of incredibly monotonous tasks that see people stationed on a conveyer belt for multiple hours on any given day – the kind of jobs that people have always wanted to be automated for the sake of more consistent work and to take people out of such depressing conditions.

A lot of the time, the kind of machinery that might be in reference when talking about automation might not even be referring to full automation – the kind that entirely takes over a role that would previously have been designated to a human. Automatic welding machinery might represent one look at this, where the job itself has been taken by the automated version of this tool for the sake of consistency and efficiency, but that job is one slice of a larger role, one that is still held by a human.

The person behind the tool still has to use it, after all. Its automation is on a more localized level, and that might be a workable middle-ground for many people who want to continue to support human workers while also reaping the various advantages that automation can offer their business.

In Opposition to Automation

That being said, while many roles that have shifted hands from humans to machines have been miserable, many have not, and the increasing technology behind automation is something that can be seen across the greater span of industries, meaning that it is becoming capable of more and more.

Related post: 5 Quick Fixes To Improve Your Construction Equipment Maintenance Schedule

 Even in the case presented by dangerous or depressing jobs, those are still lines of employment that people needed to earn money to support themselves, which can muddy the waters considerably, especially when using the argument that mechanical replacement is in their best interest.

There is a wider issue at play here – one of opportunity and financial support and the increasing complication of how unchanging that is in the face of increasing automation. As much as you might wave that away as being irrelevant to your line of work or the issue that you’re trying to address, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that this is deeply tied to it. Being in business often means making difficult decisions, and it may often not be feasible to find a solution that pleases everyone.

Completely ignoring strides made in automation, especially those which could positively benefit your business, might be something that eventually becomes detrimental if your competitors aren’t ignoring the same opportunities.

However, you don’t want your values, brand, or public image to become negatively affected by an overly detached approach either. A compromise might be what you feel works best in your favor, but even that is something that will come with its own costs on either side.

2.    The Expected Trajectory

What About Other Technologies?

As mentioned previously, automation in many areas simply represents the next logical leap when you have the finances to incorporate it. If you want your business to keep growing at a steady rate, you’re going to need to get your hands on relevant technologies that can help you to work efficiently as your size grows.

In manufacturing, for example, you might find that you begin to integrate 3D printers into your operations, making use of how they can help you to develop prototypes and assist with mass production at rates that you didn’t think were possible before. You might wonder how this is so different – what makes this okay, and more traditional forms of automation not?

It might simply boil down to matters of perspective and context. Automation typically refers to machinery that can also be called ‘robots’, things that run themselves in one way or another. If you still need someone to use the 3D printer, does that make it a robot? Maybe not, but it is also possible to fit a 3D printer with artificial intelligence (AI) that can allow it to operate much of its own accord – or at least how it’s been intended. Does this cross the line into automation? If so, it’s not hard to see how these could be used en masse soon.

Do You Have a Choice?

Seeing this, you might start to worry (if automation is something that you’re not too sure about) that all roads lead to Rome, and automation is more of an inevitability than you initially thought – as mentioned previously, resisting new technologies that could massively help your business might simply lead you to lag behind, after all.

Going back to the previously mentioned ‘wider issue’, though, might provide you with a fresh perspective here. While you might start to fear an immediate slippery slope into all jobs being automated, whether you like it or not, the fact that people still need employment to support themselves means that a line has to be drawn somewhere so that this dynamic still makes sense.

Unfortunately, what this might mean is that some industries become more acceptingly automated than others. Instead of it being about whether or not a job can be automated, the question might focus on whether or not it should, with perhaps special attention given to those mentioned before that might pose physical harm to those working them.

It’s easy to imagine which lines of work might remain in human hands – those that need to be more emotionally dynamic, such as those which are customer-facing – while straightforward functions might be replicated. However, using this, you might think that customer service roles are ‘safe’, but the presence of self-service machines at supermarkets might show a possible trajectory for how a wider number of such professions could go.

The Issue of Industry

Back to manufacturing and construction, though, how can you expect it to go? Well, trying to predict the many ways in which the future could unfold is always a hopeless cause, and anxiety about the likelihood of things that you don’t want to happen could simply serve to damage your mental health and ability to be productive.

While you might have already seen the many ways in which the manufacturing industry could be permeated by automation, especially due to the mechanical and consistent requirements that can be easily met by machines, but you might be less sure about construction.

A lot of the discussion around construction automation might be about heavy machinery. Many have cited the slow pace of the industry at large to adopt automated construction machinery like this, but that might be more due to the high price of such equipment over other concerns. However, that’s not to say that these other concerns don’t exist. The question of people being harmed by robots and machinery is an ever-present one in this topic, and that question might be most pertinent of all when regarding incredibly heavy and powerful machines. This is only talking about people being hurt by accident, as well as machines being responsible for all of that power could leave them susceptible to hackers, meaning that the sophistication of such devices will have to be increased further to protect them from these threats.

All of these factors combine into automation potentially representing the more difficult option for now. While it is certainly possible in the field of construction, the risks and the costs involved make it an area to watch for the future, rather than one that is as present as that of manufacturing. That being said, technology develops quickly in the modern world, so who knows how quickly tomorrow will come in this case.

3.    What About AI?

Are You Already Using It?

It’s difficult to talk about the long-term or overarching implications of automation without touching on artificial intelligence. It was mentioned earlier about how it could be implemented into other technologies to push them over the edge into automation, but it’s also worth looking at how it is used in a more general sense.

Many people might be unaware of how widely AI is already used in many businesses, and you could even be using it yourself in some ways that don’t pertain to the main aspects of your business.

Perhaps the biggest example here is that of SEO. Search engine optimization is a popular form of marketing that you might have looked into for yourself, and if you’ve gone about this by outsourcing it, it makes sense that you might not be entirely in the loop as to how it’s done in the first place – that’s okay, you don’t have to be, it’s the nature of outsourcing.

However, the fact that AI plays such an active role in so many steps of the SEO process (even going so far as to write some of the content itself), and the fact that you could be unaware despite using this process for yourself, shows how implemented AI is in the modern, digital world.

However, you might ask yourself if this is a problem at all. The same issues that arose before about jobs being rendered obsolete, still stand with AI, though the jobs in question might be different. However, the concerns that you have might more directly relate to the slightly separate argument and debate that surrounds AI, its development, and how well those things are under the control of the people who made it in the first place.

 It’s a valid discussion and concern, but a difficult one to reconcile due to how widely it’s used. As with automation, you might feel as though it’s difficult to remove it from the world as it now stands, due to the progress that it has helped achieve, as well as all of the applications that it could have in the future.

The Modern Business

Another way you could look at AI is with indifference, if you feel as though it doesn’t play a large enough part in the fields of manufacturing or construction. However, not only is this not true due to how it interacts with factors such as marketing but going back to how it interacts with the 3D printer shows how AI could become more present in the aspects of your business that you’re more familiar with.

Furthermore, automated heavy-duty construction vehicles might be operated this way as well. As AI and automation simultaneously become more advanced, the ways for them to interact with each other and other industries increase, and it might be more and more common to see them in a variety of places.

This technological integration might just be a quality of the modern business, regardless of how far you feel as though your line of work typically rests on those kinds of matters.

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