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© dirk ercken dreamstime.com Electronics Production | February 29, 2016

Mercedes de-robotisation: A new trend or a rare example?

We are becoming quite accustomed to the “robots taking over production”-narrative. Mercedes is – in that perspective – bucking that trend, reducing the number of robots. What does this tell us about the future?
Mercedes-Benz is going in a different direction than most producers you would hear about these days. The S-Class sedan comes with a wide array of options that are proving to be a headache for the robots – who are traditionally better at repeatedly doing the same thing over and over. And, thus, the assembly lines are being repopulated by humans in the facility in Sindelfingen (Germany), which produces some 400'000 vehicles on a yearly basis, Bloomberg writes.

“Robots can’t deal with the degree of individualization and the many variants that we have today,” said Markus Schaefer, Mercedes head of production at the factory in Sindelfingen. “We’re saving money and safeguarding our future by employing more people”, he told Bloomberg.

Having humans in the production line might slow down some processes. However, a skilled workforce can shift the production focus in a weekend while the robots require weeks of reprogramming and testing.

So, practically speaking, what does it all mean? One place to look at is E-class and it's head-up display – the "dashboards of the future", that shows speed and navigation instructions on the windshield. Those systems are advanced, important selling points for the purpose of – among other things – increased model differentiation. Here, the car manufacturer will replace two permanently installed robots with either a moveable, more lightweight robot – or a human worker.

Even with those changes, robots will linger on. But they will grow smaller and they need to work alongside their human counterparts, who, for the moment, seem to have a place in the production of the future too.

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