Advantages of Hand Assembly
While automation has replaced manual assembly in some industries, many businesses enjoy cost-savings, quality control, and convenience from hand assembly. Rolls Royce, for example, has relied on their human workforce to complete high-quality luxury cars since 1906—that’s 100 years of hand-made perfection. Other industries find similar benefits, like OEMs of many vital electronic components, electronic products, textile products, paper products, and many others. Despite noticeable trends in automation, handmade assembly remains the unspoken, yet essential bridge completing many finished products today. Manual assembly is also a strategic business advantage that many companies continue to utilize for a variety of reasons.
Automation requires specialized equipment and high start-up costs to create a single product or complete a single process. While making more products faster, machinery must be customized for the processes required, from welding to riveting, painting, adhesion, packaging and more. While many processes are standardized, even cheap equipment requires initial investments of tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars, with no guarantee as to how long the machine will last, how many repairs it will need, or when it will need them. A human workforce may be trained or retrained within weeks or months to perform a wide variety of operations as needed, with little to no upfront costs.
During economic booms or holiday times demands rise, while slow-downs and vacation times put demands in a slump. Machinery built to delivery maximum quantities in minimum times can’t deliver more than their set limit, creating costly delivery delays, and machinery must sit idle during slow periods, sucking up standby energy while producing nothing. By contrast, hiring and training more workers or hiring temporary workers makes it easy to raise quantities as needed. During slow periods, workers can be laid off or temporary workers can be removed, creating more flexible quantity minimums and maximums that can be adjusted according to forecasts.
Automated process may check for specific, commonly-occurring or potentially dangerous defects, or measure a product by specific standards such as dimensions or weight for quality control. A worker, however can look carefully at a product from all angles to check for any cosmetic defects, and they can actually test a product to see if it performs in the same way a consumer or client would expect. While machines can test for defects quickly in large quantities, only highly intelligent and extremely expensive machinery can test for the same eventualities a human would look for and, even then, machinery cannot be programmed to react to all problems. A human can immediately see if a product does not meet par.
While even famous luxury automakers like Rolls Royce have opted for automated production in some aspects, handmade, visually inspected quality maintains a gold standard for many automobile components, and components in many other industries as well. Computerized machinery and automated assembly lines produce more units at a faster rate, but that does not necessarily correlate to higher quality, better performance or lower costs. Automated processes and manual assembly or inspections should be compared carefully for each product to fine the best possible avenue.