Tuesday, 13 June 2006

Assembly Evolution (1/7)

I originally published this article under the title, “Changes in Assembly Work Environments” in the book “Programmable Assembly”, ISBN 0.903608.65.0.

The role of the modern assembly worker is very different now from that of 3 generations ago. Improvements in parts quality consistency has eliminated the previously required skill of the apprentice trained fitter. A new breed of unskilled assembly workers has been created, through the division of labour, to carry out repetitive and mundane tasks.  However, many companies use assembly automation if it can be economically justified, and after the product has been re-designed for automatic assembly.

The development of modern assembly techniques is discussed, together with future trends in manual and automatic assembly. Emphasis is given to the changing needs of the people directly involved in these assembly operations.


There has been a rapid increase in living standards in the developed nations throughout the previous century, mostly due to the application of technology to manufacturing. The mass production of goods has made many items available at economic prices. Homemakers now have a multitude of labour saving devices to reduce the amount of time spent on household chores. This has enabled many homemakers to work in factories which produce these goods. Assembly workers can master a simple assembly task and repeat it for more than 1000 times per day; every day. Working with other people on an assembly line can create a sense of cooperation within a joint effort.

However, there has been criticism of the assembly line technique. It is argued that the repetitive work is boring and tedious and that workers no longer gain satisfaction from doing their job.  Workers never see the finished product and the continual repetition of movements creates boredom. Industrial unrest in high volume manufacturing companies has been associated with the job dissatisfaction of assembly line workers. Manufacturers now realise that the economic benefits of the division of labour have to be judged alongside the sociological and psychological disadvantages.

The use of assembly automation during product manufacture eliminates worker dissatisfaction with repetitive work, since most of the mundane tasks are done by machines. Workers are then used to fill magazines/feeders and to maintain the equipment. The reduced labour content often creates a costreduction in the finished goods. The culmination of this desirable process is an increase in leisure time, through a reduction in the working week.  Emphasis must then be placed on how people are to spend their leisure time. This should be the subject of major reform in our training establishments.

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