Did you know that Volkswagen manufacture over 10.3 million cars per year, employ 600,000 people world-wide, shape 2,600 tons of steel every day in their Wolfsburg plant, are 96% automated in their production, produce 32 parts per minute on their press lines, use 35 different kinds of steel and produce more of their own component parts than any other automotive manufacturer? Nor did I, but this week I accompanied a group of Staffordshire University Business students on a Study Trip to Germany. We visited the Volkswagen manufacturing plant in Wolfsburg, the largest car plant in Europe.
I have been on a few factory tours in my time, but to say that I was amazed is an understatement. Within an archaic looking 1940’s building we were exposed to the wonders of modern technology, watching row upon row of environmentally friendly Kuka robots dancing to the tune of production, moving seamlessly to and fro in a whirlwind of activity, that culminated in the production of a new car every 18 seconds.
It is amazing to witness, but what is sadly more amazing is the disappearance of the human element of production. The employees were few and far between, taken over by a mass of machinery. In fact, we were told that of the 70,000 employees at the huge manufacturing plant at Wolfsburg, less than a third of them work in production, the remainder are all office workers.
It is predicted that robots will take over most jobs within 30 years and the development of humanoid robotic technology is moving at a frighteningly fast pace. As consumers, the number of transactions that we perform without ever seeing or speaking to a human being is increasing day by day with the development of touch-screen customer service systems, automated telephone lines and a variety of apps that we now consider essential for day-to-day living.
Whilst we embrace this on demand, responsive service to our consumer needs, I believe there is still a need for the human touch. The irony is, the factory tour that our students enjoyed so much was enhanced by our visitor tour guide, Robertino. Even down to him obligingly taking a selfie with us all. So for now, let’s keep the ‘man’ in manufacturing.
Angela Lawrence, Senior Lecturer in Marketing
Twitter @iteroange Facebook @angelawrence
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