Now It’s Humans Assisting Robots | Sheelah Kolhatkar | The New Yorker

Steelcase ology

“[…]As a zone leader, Stinson is responsible for about fifteen employees on a section of the production line that makes parts for Steelcase’s Ology series—height-adjustable tables built for the standing-desk craze. Until last year, the plant workers had to consult a long list of steps, taking pains to remove the correct parts out of a cart filled with variously sized bolts and screws and pins and to insert each one in the correct hole and in the correct order. Now computerized workstations, called ‘vision tables,’ dictate, step by step, how workers are to assemble a piece of furniture. The process is virtually mistake-proof: the system won’t let the workers proceed if a step isn’t completed correctly. We stood behind a young woman wearing a polo shirt and Lycra shorts, with a long blond ponytail. When a step was completed, a light turned on above the next required part, accompanied by a beep-beep-whoosh sound. A scanner overhead tracked everything as it was happening, beaming the data it collected to unseen engineers with iPads.[…] ”

Sourced through The New Yorker

Michel Baudin‘s comments: This is excerpted from a long article entitled Welcoming Our New Robot Overlords, from the 10/23/2017 issue of The New Yorker that caught my attention because it’s not about robots and it seems to be in the same spirit as Omron’s Digital Yatai back in 2002: using technology to eliminate hesitation and to mistake-proof operations that are too long or have too many variants to allow operators to go “on automatic” while performing them.

When repeating the same 60 seconds of work 400 times in a shift, operators quickly develop the ability to execute rapidly and accurately with their minds elsewhere. If on the other hand, the takt time is 20 minutes or the work is customized for every unit, the work requires the operators’ undivided, conscious attention and their productivity is increased by systems like the vision tables described in the article, that prompt them for every step and validate its completion.

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