The Role of People for High-Tech Car Manufacturing
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The Role of People for High-Tech Car Manufacturing

Alan Oshiro, Senior Director of Manufacturing, Karma Automotive
Alan Oshiro, Senior Director of Manufacturing, Karma Automotive

Alan Oshiro, Senior Director of Manufacturing, Karma Automotive

These days, cars are high-tech. Car enthusiasts are no longer “grease monkeys” but “car geeks”. People who started out as mechanics with wrenches are now engineers with computers. Even the people building these high-tech cars are operating robots that churn out cars with highly accurate torque range, cleaner welds, and smoother paint finishes. As more work gets done with less and less people, we find ourselves questioning: “What is the role of people in this new era of high-tech manufacturing?”

Robots may reduce headcount, and technology can reduce waste in the process, but merely going through the motions of “technological innovation” often generates mixed results.

Regarding robots:

● Robots will be at work every day but may not work.

● Robots will do exactly what you program it to do. Sometimes, exactly wrong.

● We need food. Robots need power, air, and hydraulic fluid. When it’s empty, it stops.

● We take a 30-minute lunch at noon. Robots take a “break” any time of day or until you come back from lunch.

● It takes a few minutes to change standardized work. Program changes can take hours, or even days.

● People can proactively find issues outside their scope of work. Robots require optional parts and hours of programming, and yet still miss obvious issues because they’re “out of scope”.

Regarding technology:

● Computerized standardized work takes 7 minutes to boot up and log in.

● Wireless torque check takes 4 minutes longer if Wi-Fi reception is bad.

● Weekly Skype meetings cannot solve problems on the production floor.

● A 64-slide PowerPoint presentation during this Skype meeting also will not identify any root causes.

● Receiving 30-70 emails and three 1-hour meeting invites per day is counterproductive.

"Robots and technology are great tools to produce high-tech cars, but they are not replacements for people"

Installing robots and introducing new technology without clear thinking and reasoning can lead to higher cost, longer changeover, and new causes of downtime. In order to harness these technologies while maintaining the value of human workers, it’s critical to focus on where and how we use these tools to assist people and address problems.

Programming robot paths is no different than creating work sequences in standardized work. A robot spraying gel coat was wasting nearly 30% of the path in non-value-added movement.

High-tech cars require high-tech parts: TPMS, ADAS, EPB, EBCM, HCU, and much more. A process is added using a computerized multi-functional tool to confirm communication between these parts. This process created wait time while the tool was cycling through the checking process. To reduce this wait time, we separated human and machine work: the MFT cycled through the process while the operator worked on setting up the next check.

When COVID-19 forced our plant to shut down and people shifted to working from home, Skype became an important tool. Production operators who built cars cannot build from home, so the leaders came up with an idea to improve our problem-solving skills based on discussions focused on implementing improvements at home, such as organizing kitchen cabinets, creating flow in the garage, identifying the cause of plants not growing, and improving pet medication.

Robots and technology are great tools to produce high-tech cars, but they are not replacements for people. In fact, people are the only resource that can think and come up with unique ideas to improve both man and machine operations.

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