By Joy M. Ebben, Ph.D, CPE
Human Factors and Ergonomic Specialist, IAC Industries, Brea, Calif.
How do managers make informed decisions about allocating tasks to humans and robotics equipment? Some functions can be performed only by humans because they require high level decision-making, compared to machine-only functions such as water-jet cutting. Functions that can be performed by either humans or machines present the most difficult choices for the manufacturing manager. The wrong decision could lead to lower productivity or quality, unnecessary costs, and accidents.
Guidelines for allocating tasks are provided by Anil Mital in International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics, August 1994. Briefly, functions should be performed by machines when the tasks have:
Some functions should be performed by humans because the tasks have:
For tasks that could be performed by either human or machine, consider these for influences:
Will the task be satisfying to employees? Sometimes it is better to assign a monotonous human task to a machine.
Analyze the criteria described to choose the best option for specific tasks. Most managers choose a hybrid solution combining people, machines and computers over full automation. For functions that will be assigned to a human, the related processes, tasks and workstations must be designed as an optimized total system. The goal is to provide tools and a workplace in which the human can perform efficiently, safely and with job satisfaction.
The last step is to assign people appropriately and fine-tune their workplaces around cognitive, physical and safety factors.
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