The traditional industrial manufacturing paradigm assumes 3 specializations required to create a product: an engineer, a technologist and a technician (worker). Engineers invent the design that matches the specifications; technologists are engaged in the organization of the manufacturing process, including the choice of machines and operations to implement the design; and workers produce the product using the machines, tools and instructions given by the technologist.
Everything is constantly changing due to the development of machines. With the invention of CNC machines, the main role of the worker was given away. The role of the technologist has also evolved into computer-aided manufacturing(CAM) software operator. As in many other fields, intelligent machines become responsible for non-creative and automatable operations.
Additive manufacturing: a new step of replacing a human
In additive manufacturing, the scope of work done by machines expands even further. Now the engineer does not have to account for technological limitations anymore, and the technologists and workers roles are almost completely replaced with an automated digital process workflow. Manufacturing process now includes only an engineer and machines which are a worker and a technologist at the same time. Engineers are the last bastion of human superiority over machines however not for long.
As we see, machines can be creative too. Design (generative design) software based on artificial intelligence appears. Moreover, AI machines demonstrate an approach that differs from how human engineers used to design: machines can go through millions of versions and choose the most optimal while a human always relies on his own experience and knowledge inherited from the previous generations (I’ll talk about this in more detail a bit later). The complete workflow of creating new products can become completely unmanned. Machines will design, self-organize and produce things.
New roles for humans
It seems machines will replace humans in manufacturing in some decades. Scary, right? However, there are roles for us that machines still can’t perform. Here is how I see this.
Manager, a person who sets the tasks. Since we understand the goals of creating things and can see the whole picture while machines are not, humanity will be the top management of even the most automatized manufacturing process.
Responsible party: to identify issues, to be responsible for the result and incidents. Already the hottest topic for self-driving cars will be more distributed as more robots become a usual part of our lives.
A technology developer: a person who is developing and improving algorithms for the machines and controlling their operation.