These Automotive Jobs Can't Be Done By Machines (Yet)

Automotive manufacturing pairs people and machines that work together to build cars as quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively as possible. The process has, ever since Ford invented the moving assembly line, more than a century ago, involved some kind of mix of human work and automation, yet more and more mechanization and automation have some jobs redundant.
Renault production line 6 photos
Photo: Renault
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The main incentive behind this is to reduce costs, but even with today’s tech level, it would probably be a lot more expensive to try to replace some jobs. It is not only more economical to have skilled, well-trained people executing these jobs, but as things currently stand, their work is of a considerably higher standard than machines can muster right now. Take that, Skynet!

This is bound to change in the future, though, as machines get more capable and artificial intelligence tech advances, but as things stand right now, these are the segments in the automotive industry where people will still be required for the foreseeable future.

As long as there will be a constant need for new cars, there will be incentives to invest in cost-cutting, and one of the best ways to cut costs is to not have to pay wages. It sounds awful but it's fact.

Besides, the automotive industry is probably one of the most heavily reliant on automated machines, which now do all the heavy lifting (both literally and figuratively), so it’s a bit of a trendsetter when it comes to automation. It’s interesting to note, though, that rushing automation of certain tasks is a strategy that can backfire, as Tesla proved after it failed to meet delivery deadlines for the Model 3 because it was not able to get the orchestra of robots needed to make the EV up and running smoothly and in unison.

Upper Management

You may think that company management duties today are already being taken over by artificial intelligence. And you’d be right - payroll, data gathering and analysis are already fully automated in the case of many companies, but software can’t fully replace humans just yet.

Managers, especially managers higher up on the company ladder, often have to make decisions on a moral basis. This isn’t something you can program into a computer, so people will still manage companies (automakers included) in the future as well.

And it’s hard to imagine how this would change, even with advancements in artificial intelligence - morality is such a deeply human trait, that it seems virtually impossible to break it down into code so that a machine can interpret it.

Marketing strategy

Just like the management side of things, marketing won’t be handled by machines anytime soon. Sure, artificial intelligence can put a mailing list together and send brochures, make some pre-programmed recommendations, use a search engine, recognize images and patterns, as well as target you based on your social media profile, provide predictive analysis and sales forecast.

What AI can’t quite do right now is set the guidelines for all of the above, or, in other words, the strategy. Software is doing all of the heavy lifting in marketing today, and by that, I’m referring to menial, repetitive tasks. Someone still needs to tell the system who to target and how to go about doing it - you can’t try to sell a hatchback to somebody who is looking to buy a luxury SUV or vice versa.

Any job that requires creativity

Creativity is not something machines are apt to do. At all. Machines are best suited to do repetitive tasks, even those who have artificial intelligence capabilities. But being creative and, say, understanding aesthetics are not things that can be programmed into a piece of software.

In other words, car designers will still be around, maybe even long after some other departments that are still manned right now will have been fully moved into the realm of AI. People connect with a car because its design speaks to them - they resonate with it - and cars that don’t have a soul, if you will, are shunned and they frankly don’t do that well from a sales standpoint. And that’s the bottom line.

Car designers may end up being replaced by machines if their purpose will be to design cheap and simple transport that people will buy based solely on its practical use. But for anything fancier than that, AI takeover doesn’t seem likely.

Plant assembly and maintenance

Even in car plants that are heavily reliant on machines and software to function, people still need to build and program everything beforehand. We’re quite a long way away from robots building robots (a scenario that sounds a lot like Skynet) or buildings, so people will still be employed in this field.

Then, once everything is up and running, people are still needed to make fine adjustments and, in case something breaks, proceed to repair the fault or shut down the machine responsible.

Making service and maintenance robots seems unlikely right now, due to the very high complexity of the things they’d need to maintain and fix. Maybe if future robots would be simpler with inherently fewer parts that could break, this could become more feasible.

Quality Assurance

No piece of technology can replace the keen eye of a quality inspector. Such people are employed to check the quality of manufacturing at various stages of the process. The final quality inspector checks the finished car to make sure it’s up to scratch, looking for alignment issues, paint issues or visible flaws in components.

The final inspection also needs to ensure all of the car’s systems work as intended - this means pressing all the buttons, opening all storage spaces and even going in-depth by checking that, say, the flap that changes the direction of the air coming out of the vents is assembled properly.

It simply wouldn’t be feasible for a robot to do all these things. Sure, quality inspectors do use technology to do their job, but they rely on their senses more than on tech. By that I mean they will use a laser measuring device to make sure panel gaps are constant, but they may only do this if their keen eyesight tells them the alignment is not right. Maybe in the future, they will use more tech to make their job easier and ensure fewer flaws make it through, but they won’t be replaced any time soon.

Artisan jobs

Some makers of expensive high-end cars employ artists and artisans to do accomplish various tasks that just wouldn’t be the same without the human touch. Take the person at Rolls Royce whose only job is to paint the beltline stripe - this is done by hand and even if a machine could do it even more accurately, the fact that a skilled human created it actually adds to the car’s value.

These luxury automakers also employ skilled seamsters and seamstresses, as well as skilled tailors and leather tanners. Their resulting work won’t be 100 percent perfect if you were to look at it in terms of precision and tolerances, but for the kind of buyers that buy cars from the likes of Rolls-Royce and Bentley, they are paying a premium specifically to feel the human touch. No robot would ever be allowed to paint the coachline pinstrip on a Rolls.

Such people are not really employed by mainstream automakers, though, and they’re only occasionally brought on board for concepts and special projects. Yet the fact that their work has value and will continue to have value, regardless of how advanced the machines that could replace them become. At least until Skynet becomes self-aware, but by then we'll have John Connor as leader of the Resistance.
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