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Mercedes-Benz Manufacturing: Where the Robotic and Customization Movements Clash


Written By: Christine Dantz

March 2016

Mercedes-Benz, the German Luxury carmaker (that manufactures cars in the U.S.), is learning that automation with robots and the surge in the customization demands of its consumer base, clash. Back in the USA has covered the increase of robotics throughout the manufacturing community and the positive impacts it has on bringing manufacturers back to America, as well as diving specifically into 3D printing technology that benefits small manufacturers. Now Back in the USA is going to throw the monkey wrench into those ideas with this latest information.


Mercedes-Benz Manufacturing: Where the Robotic and Customization Movements Clash


First, the Problem:

Robots are perfect when it comes to generic products. But today's consumers can't compute Henry Ford's famous words,

"Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants, so long as it is black."

That doesn't fly with consumers who live in a world where anyone can customize everything from their sneakers and computers to their fast food meal. The Mercedes-Benz S Class sedan comes with a list of customizations:

  • Heated/cooled cup holders
  • Different designs for the tire valve caps
  • Carbon fiber trim

The robots can't keep up, and the amount of areas consumers can customize in the future models is designed to increase significantly. Just three customizations are a stark change from the past. The luxury car manufacturer plans to offer different options that include:

  • Bamboo trim
  • An illuminated Mercedes emblem
  • Interior fragrances

Soon, the sky will be the limit for automobile customizations!

Mercedes Solution

So what is the German carmaker's solution, and how will it help America? They've learned that there are still some things that can't replace human dexterity and flexibility.

According to the Mercedes-Benz head of production, Markus Schaefer,

"We're saving money and safeguarding our future by employing more people."

The same technique that they used in Germany, is being adopted by BMW, Volkswagen, and Toyota. Each factory worker is equipped with a set of robotic tools that aid them in the customization of each vehicle. The technique is called "robot farming."


Mass production robotic arm


A report from the International Federal of Robotics indicates that nearly 1.3 million industrial robots will enter the workforce over the next two years. Many of these robots will be small, but effective tools being used in place of the large, bulky machines that have mass produced vehicles for the past few decades.

Mercedes's solution for increased customization, that doesn't reduce the vehicle's quality, is spreading to other automobile manufacturers. If American manufacturers follow that lead, the U.S. will get a boost to middle wage jobs, which have been dwindling from the American economy since the end of the last Great Depression.

References
Behrmann, E., & Rauwald, C. (2016, February 25). Why Mercedes is halthing robots' reign on the production line. Retrieved from Chicago Tribune.
Quirk, M. B. (2014, October 10). A Brief History of Car Colors--And Why Are We So Borning Now? Retrieved from Consumerist.
Reuven. (2016, February 29). Mercedes-Benz Begins "Robot Farming". Retrieved from Financial Buzz.
Woodyard, C. (2015, September 18). Mercedes-Benz invest $1.3B in Alabama plant, adds 300 jobs. Retrieved from USA Today.

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Other Articles of Interest:

Betty-Bots: Taking Jobs and Boosting Bottom Lines?

Putting the Power Back into the Hands of Small Business with 3D Printers

The DeLorean is Back from the Past

Apprenticeship Programs: The Future of American Workers

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