In many industrial applications, the battle between man and machine is long ago over. Today, robots and heavy automation assets are performing tasks quicker, cheaper, safer, and to a better standard than their human counterparts in manufacturing plants around the world. Nevertheless, there remain those industrial sectors during which the skilled operator has (thus far) resisted the increase of the machines; low volume, premium quality, and highly customizable products still are assembled using largely manual processes in areas like aerospace and luxury automotive manufacturing, but could that be close to change?
The drivers for not automating in these sectors are clear, whilst automation is technically viable for several manufacturing processes, the high setup costs balanced against a comparatively short (or unknown) production run encourage a low-risk ROI based approach to investment. Additionally, in cases of high product variability, it's going to be true that found out times and tooling changeovers render the automated option cumbersome and slow as compared to a talented and highly flexible operator.
However, the raft of the latest technologies that have arrived with the fourth technological revolution (Industry 4.0) means the selection of manual vs automation is not any longer a binary one. Through technology, it's now possible to bring back bear through the hands of an operator many of the characteristics to which we've always looked to automation, but at a fraction of the value.