Clare Goldsberry's Page 6, Feb. 19 Perspective, ``Humans are, indeed, resources,'' hits true on a number of fronts. As a manufacturer of vacuum forming and thermoforming machinery, and as an innovator in robotic-operated vacuum forming, I would like to reinforce her viewpoint.
Z.M.D. International Inc. developed the Automated Vacuum Forming Center. This system loads flat plastic sheet, unloads and trims finished parts, and stacks them for removal to another area. It can eliminate three man-time equivalents in its operation.
The reason to automate is not to eliminate people. The reason is to increase consistency, quality and repeatability. A well-set-up system will operate as consistently as your best worker during the best five minutes of his best day. Productivity is a game of inches these days, rather than increases of gigantic magnitude. A fully automated system can increase full-time production about 20 percent by eliminating some of the operator error and time slippage that are part of the way operators perform their jobs. An automated system still needs to be ``fed,'' and the end result inspected and graded.
Another issue is the elimination of tasks that are repetitive, which strain the body and can be a source of human misery, as well as worker compensation claims. Lifting heavy plastic sheet to a thermoformer, pulling hot parts out and being in close contact with heaters, cutting blades and other dangers can be eliminated or minimized by currently available automation techniques.
The concept of the ``lights out'' factory may be possible with totally consistent products, but with thermoforming, there will always be a need for decisions, watchfulness and human interaction.
The best computer is always a human brain.
The objective of automation, at least in the Automated Vacuum Forming Center environment, is to maximize the effectiveness of the existing work force and to keep production to its highest level.
People run a business. In the future, we will see more automation, but will also need to be as sensitive to the human needs of the business as we are to customer needs. The plastics industry needs automation to get production to higher profitability, but will not be able to totally eliminate the human factors in production. We must learn to operate on both levels effectively.
Z.M.D. International Inc.