Automating the Automobile

״Some of the most dramatic breakthroughs in re-engineering and technology displacement are occurring in the automotive industry. As noted earlier, post-Fordism is rapidly transforming the automobile industry around the world. At the same time, post-Fordist restructuring is resulting in massive layoffs of blue collar workers on the assembly line. The worlds largest manufacturing activity, auto manufacturers produce more than 50 million new vehicles each year Peter Drucker once christened auto manufacturing “the industry of industries.”^ The automobile and its related industrial enterprises are responsible for generating one out of every twelve manufacturing jobs in the United States and are serviced by more than 50,000 satellite suppliers. One enthusiastic supporter in the 1930s exclaimed, ‘Think of the results to the industrial world of putting on the market a product that doubles the malleable iron consumption, triples the plate-glass consumption, and quadruples the use of rubber. … As a consumer of raw material, the automobile has no equal in the history of the world.״

״The importance of the automobile to the global economy and jobs is unquestionable. From the time Henry Ford installed the first moving assembly line, automakers have experimented with thousands of innovations to increase production and reduce labor in the production process. Ford himself took pride in his company’s ability to substitute technology for physical labor, and was continually engaged in finding new ways to reduce tasks to simple effortless operations. He claimed in his autobiography. My Life and Work, that while producing a Model T required 7,882 distinct tasks, only 949 of those tasks required “strong able bodied, and practically physically perfect men.” As to the rest of the tasks. Ford claimed that “670 could be filled by legless men, 2,637 by one legged men, two by armless men, 715 by one-armed men, and ten by blind men.״

״Ford’s vision of an assembly line is advancing rapidly, and the Japanese are leading the way. Industry experts predict that by the end of the current decade, Japanese-owned factories will be able to produce a finished automobile in less than eight hours.’^ The shortening of production time means far fewer workers are required on the line.^

Following Japan’s lead, U.S. automakers are beginning to re-engineer their own operations in the hope of increasing productivity, reducing labor rolls, and improving on their market share and profit margin. In 1993 General Motors president John F. Smith, Jr., announced plans to implement much-needed re-engineering reforms at GM plants and estimated that the changes in production practices could eliminate as many as 90,000 auto jobs, or one third of its workforce, by the late 1990s. These new cuts come on top of the 250,000 jobs GM has already eliminated since 1978.^״

״Other global automakers are also re-engineering their operations and eliminating large numbers of workers. Mercedes-Benz announced in September of 1993 that it would seek to increase efficiency in its facilities by 15 percent in 1994, and would cut more than 14,000 jobs. By 1995 industry analysts predict that German automakers could eliminate as many as one in seven jobs. This in a country where 10 percent of the entire industrial workforce is either in the automotive industry or services it.^^

Automakers view labor-displacing technology as their best bet to reduce costs and improve profit performance. Despite the fact that labor costs are less than 10 to 15 percent of total costs, they represent a larger percentage of sales than do profits, and are easily reducible with the substitution of new information technologies. The International Labor Organization of the United Nations estimates that by reducing labor costs in half, global automakers could triple their profits. GM hopes that by eliminating one fourth of its workforce and re-engineering its operations, it can save more than $5 billion a year by 1995 Robots are becoming increasingly attractive as a cost-cutting alternative to human labor on the automobile assembly line. The Japanese, far ahead of other automakers, have robotized much of their production lines. Mazda Motor Corporation announced in 1993 that it was targeting a 30 percent automation of final assembly at its new Hofu Japan plant. The company hopes to have a 50 percent automated final assembly line by the year 2000.^^ As the new generation of “smart” robots, armed with greater intelligence and flexibility, make their way to the market, automakers are far more likely to substitute them for workers because they are most cost effective. The trade journal Machinery and Production Engineering stated the corporate view in blunt terms: “The payment of higher wages to workers who cannot be described by any standards as anything more elevated than machine minders is rapidly becoming unattractive, and where a man is employed solely for unloading one machine and loading another . . . the substitution of a robot is not only a glaringly obvious course but also increasingly easy to justify financially. Moreover a robot is not subject to the random variations in performance . . . and is for all practical purposes working as hard as conscientiously, and as consistently at the end of the shift as it is at the beginning. Industrial engineers are currently developing even more advanced machine surrogates “with such capabilities as voice communication, a general purpose programming language, learning from experience, three-dimensional vision with color sensitivity, multiple hand to hand coordination, walking and self-navigating skills, and self-diagnostic and correction skills.” The goal, says sociologist Michael Wallace, “is to approach, as closely as possible, the human capabilities to process environmental data and to solve problems, while avoiding the problems (e.g. absenteeism and turnover) presented by human agents.

״It is estimated that each robot replaces four jobs in the economy, and if in constant use twenty-four hours a day, will pay for itself in just over one year^^ In 1991, according to the International Federation of Robotics, the worlds robot population stood at 630,000. That number is expected to rise dramatically in the coming decades as thinking machines become far more intelligent, versatile, and flexible.״

ציטוט מתוך: Jeremy‏, Rifkin. ״The end of work : the decline of the global labor force and the dawn of the post-market era.״ New York : G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1995. iBooks.
‫יתכן שחומר זה מוגן על-ידי זכויות יוצרים.‬

ציטוט מתוך: Jeremy‏, Rifkin. ״The end of work : the decline of the global labor force and the dawn of the post-market era.״ New York : G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1995. iBooks.
‫יתכן שחומר זה מוגן על-ידי זכויות יוצרים.‬

ציטוט מתוך: Jeremy‏, Rifkin. ״The end of work : the decline of the global labor force and the dawn of the post-market era.״ New York : G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1995. iBooks.
‫יתכן שחומר זה מוגן על-ידי זכויות יוצרים.‬

ציטוט מתוך: Jeremy‏, Rifkin. ״The end of work : the decline of the global labor force and the dawn of the post-market era.״ New York : G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1995. iBooks.
‫יתכן שחומר זה מוגן על-ידי זכויות יוצרים.‬

ציטוט מתוך: Jeremy‏, Rifkin. ״The end of work : the decline of the global labor force and the dawn of the post-market era.״ New York : G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1995. iBooks.
‫יתכן שחומר זה מוגן על-ידי זכויות יוצרים.‬

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