What Mercedes Just Did To Their Production Line Is The Opposite Of Efficiency. And We Love It.

Mercedes-AMG GT (C 190) 2014, exterior: AMG solarbeam; AMG Exterior Night package

In the last 5 years, Mercedes has diluted it’s gene pool in the name of cold hard cash. As they put more and more models up for sale, the nomenclature becomes confusing and the cars themselves don’t seem as personalized.

Or do they? Well on the S-Class that might not be so true. According to Markus Schaefer, the head of production for Merc, the S-Class assembly line is getting rid of robots in favor of…humans?

Mercedes-Benz offers the S-Class sedan with a growing array of options such as carbon-fiber trim, heated and cooled cupholders and four types of caps for the tire valves, and the carmaker’s robots can’t keep up.

With customization key to wooing modern consumers, the flexibility and dexterity of human workers is reclaiming space on Mercedes’s assembly lines. That bucks a trend that has given machines the upper hand over manpower since legendary U.S. railroad worker John Henry died trying to best a motorized hammer more than a century ago.

“Robots can’t deal with the degree of individualization and the many variants that we have today,” Markus Schaefer, the German automaker’s head of production, said at its factory in Sindelfingen, the anchor of the Daimler AG unit’s global manufacturing network. “We’re saving money and safeguarding our future by employing more people.”

What’s more intriguing about this is in a world where automated driving is nearly upon us and automated car manufacturing has been in effect for many decades, Mercedes is going backwards, relying on humans, because of the sheer complexities of how many options the S-Class truly has.

“The variety is too much to take on for the machines,” said Schaefer, who’s pushing to reduce the hours needed to produce a car to 30 from 61 in 2005. “They can’t work with all the different options and keep pace with changes.”

This also give them greater assembly line flexibility.

With manufacturing focused around a skilled crew of workers, Mercedes can shift a production line in a weekend instead of the weeks needed in the past to reprogram robots and shift assembly patterns, Schaefer said. During that downtime, production would be at a standstill.

This just goes to show that no matter how advanced certain machines become, there really is no substitute to good old fashioned human ingenuity.

(Source: Bloomberg)


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