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Japan Education Robotics

Humans Are Taking Jobs From Robots In Japan 80

Hugh Pickens DOT Com (2995471) writes "Bloomberg reports that humans are taking the place of machines in plants across Japan so workers can develop new skills and figure out ways to improve production lines and the car-building process. "We need to become more solid and get back to basics, to sharpen our manual skills and further develop them," says Mitsuru Kawai, a half century-long company veteran tapped by President Akio Toyoda to promote craftsmanship at Toyota's plants. "When I was a novice, experienced masters used to be called gods (Kami-sama in Japanese), and they could make anything."

According to Kawai, learning how to make car parts from scratch gives younger workers insights they otherwise wouldn't get from picking parts from bins and conveyor belts, or pressing buttons on machines. At about 100 manual-intensive workspaces introduced over the last three years across Toyota's factories in Japan, these lessons can then be applied to reprogram machines to cut down on waste and improve processes. In an area Kawai directly supervises at the forging division of Toyota's Honsha plant, workers twist, turn and hammer metal into crankshafts instead of using the typically automated process. Experiences there have led to innovations in reducing levels of scrap and shortening the production line and Kawai also credits manual labor for helping workers improve production of axle beams and cut the costs of making chassis parts. "We cannot simply depend on the machines that only repeat the same task over and over again," says Kawai. "To be the master of the machine, you have to have the knowledge and the skills to teach the machine.""
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Humans Are Taking Jobs From Robots In Japan

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 15, 2014 @08:54AM (#46755645)

    Fatal Error : they took our jerbs!

  • Breaking News (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DeTech ( 2589785 ) on Tuesday April 15, 2014 @08:56AM (#46755659)
    You have to know how to do something before you automate it effetively.
    more at 11.
    • Re:Breaking News (Score:5, Insightful)

      by qbast ( 1265706 ) on Tuesday April 15, 2014 @08:57AM (#46755667)
      For many managers it is breaking news.
      • It seems human managers would, by and large, prefer to dominate and belittle human counterparts. The response stimuli is stronger.

        As an aside, this seems to come right on the heels of the latest massive recall at Toyota, an auto manufacturer previously known for quality manufacturing.

        Perhaps they're on to something. A skilled human can still make leaps of imagination beyond what a machine is presently capable of.

        • Re:Breaking News (Score:5, Insightful)

          by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Tuesday April 15, 2014 @09:33AM (#46755889) Journal
          You don't bring in machines for their imagination, you bring them in for their repeatability and speed on something the imagination person has already worked out. At least for the moment, this means that automating-out all your skilled workers is probably a bad strategy, similar to eliminating all entry level positions and then wondering where the talented internal hiring options went.

          (It also seems to be the case that, for all the advances in fancy-CAD and haptic feedback immersive somethingsomething, it's still pretty hard to beat having access to some actual materials and machine tools for the designing process. Sure, it all has to get CADed out in the end; but humans have a lot of experience manipulating objects. Somewhat less with observing 3d renders of objects floating in virtual space behind their monitor as they click at them.)
        • It seems human managers would, by and large, prefer to dominate and belittle human counterparts

          Q: What do you call a human that manages machines?

          A: A computer programmer and/or mechanic.

          That's why MBA-types prefer to manage humans -- they're not qualified to do the alternative!

    • Yes, but the most efficient way for humans to do something isn't the most efficient way for a computer/robot to do something. Think about something like drawing a color picture. You could do this by mimmicking a human, having a robot that picks up pens of various colors, and draws lines on a stationary page, and indeed these do exist. But you could also use something like a laser printer that feeds the page through and prints across the entire page at once. Sure some inefficiencies could be figured out b
    • You have to know how to do something before you automate it effetively. more at 11.

      It is breaking news for most of us in the US, managers and otherwise. The implications of that last statement of mine are not pretty for our culture </weareabunchofludditeswithourheadsupourasses>

  • Asimo's are now going to form a union and demand equal pay
  • Singularity is near. Even for robots which will be self-improving. Perhaps earlier than humans.

  • by MiniMike ( 234881 ) on Tuesday April 15, 2014 @09:01AM (#46755697)

    Do the robots welcome their new human overlords?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 15, 2014 @09:11AM (#46755741)

    My grandfather who ran a decent sized industrial manufacturing company knew this, as well. He would send his new engineers on a year of working actually building the products that they would be designing. This helped make sure they didn't make stupid mistakes like butting bolts in a difficult to reach location, etc.

  • by Kagato ( 116051 ) on Tuesday April 15, 2014 @09:31AM (#46755861)

    One of the reasons I love Japanese Quality is because of Ribbons of Shame. []

    Man, if workers in Alabama who "assembled" my Honda had to wear them I wouldn't have so many little quality issues.

    • by Megol ( 3135005 )

      Yeah shaming the people that actually do something in a corporation is the way forward. But why don't we instead use them for what in most cases cause problems: management and "strategy" people?
      After all if the quality goals and pride in manufacturing isn't in the company culture isn't that the fault of the management, both for hiring the wrong people and keeping a faulty organisation intact?

  • You really don't want to know what robots do when they sit idle. []
  • by WillAdams ( 45638 ) on Tuesday April 15, 2014 @09:38AM (#46755921) Homepage

    The Japanese government actually contracts for the production of certain handmade saw blades which couldn't be sold profitably so as to ensure that the skills for producing the saws will be taught and passed down to succeeding generations of saw makers.

    • I have some Japanese saws myself- (mass produced and induction hardened, not what the OP is talking about). They are designed for only cutting on the pull stroke and cut quickly and accurately. Japanese woodworking techniques and tools really are a national treasure...

  • That's why I regularly, instead of driving to the place I need to go, cover the terain on foot. Doing so, I get to know the environment better and have a better understanding of the function of a car.

    I call it "going for a walk".

  • Karera wa watashi tachi no shigoto o totta!!!


  • Just wait a few production cycles and the new manager will discover that coders can program AIs that do even better than experienced machinists at making designs that reduce scrap, anticipate points of failure, and shorten production lines. Once the properties of the material being used can be reliably modeled, an AI can start with input data from metallurgy, and supplement it with data mined from authorized repair shops that make accurate reports about what broke, when, where and how. That failure data wil
  • by wjcofkc ( 964165 ) on Tuesday April 15, 2014 @09:55AM (#46756061)
    So they are retiring robots to have humans do their jobs in order to one day build better robots with human modeled efficiency to replace the humans?
    • by luis_a_espinal ( 1810296 ) on Tuesday April 15, 2014 @10:27AM (#46756361) Homepage

      So they are retiring robots to have humans do their jobs in order to one day build better robots with human modeled efficiency to replace the humans?

      Obviously yes. But also, and this is a very Japanese thing, to ensure people know how to build shit. From my short experience with Japanese culture, these people are not afraid to automate the crap out of things, but are afraid to lose what the government (and the nation) considers core competencies, from manufacturing to cultivation of rice. It is enshrined in their government's policies and in their ethos. I am not making this up.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        That really doesn't seem like a bad thing. Sure it comes at a cost, but real and potential, but it also gives people solid foundations to work on. Knowing a bit about how your hardware works would surely help someone code a more efficient driver. Understanding how the different layers of a network and what happens at what point can help when you get farther up to applications and so forth.

      • There are a lot of smart and wise Japs in the world.
    • This is just another form of the "Continuous Improvement" method of quality management, also known as the "Deming Cycle" or "Plan-Do-Check-Act".

      Monitor your process, find optimizations, improve your process, and monitor some more.

      It may result in new robots, or it may simply result in better deployment of existing ones.

    • This is a bigger problem in the US than in Japan. This is good to see someone coming up with a solution. The problems are that there aren't any good employees to get for these jobs with these compentancies. There has to be a way to bring up newer people to get a path to being the masters. The technology allows a small number of very good employees to run everything, but how do you bring up new employees to that level when they retire?

      The US is having this problem all over: for example we can't get workers []
  • It's great that they are forward looking and value craftsmanship.

    In the USA, we are now stealing jobs from Canada -- because we are so awesome! []

    Oh wait -- no, they just underbid Canadian workers who were bending over backwards in negotiations to keep Caterpillar jobs -- after they won the contract from workers in Georgia. Next, India will likely "win" the contract as they underbid Wisconsin even with the ever lower wages.

    I've already paid for my college education -- so I stil

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Milton Friedman was once taken to see a massive government project somewhere in Asia. Thousands of workers using shovels were building a canal. Friedman was puzzled. Why weren’t there any excavators or any mechanized earth-moving equipment? A government official explained that using shovels created more jobs. Friedman’s response: “Then why not use spoons instead of shovels?”

  • by Gim Tom ( 716904 ) on Tuesday April 15, 2014 @10:53AM (#46756577)
    There are many things that can not be learned except by doing them and to become proficient at them requires doing them A LOT. I am an engineer, and if you look at the record there were a number of unusual engineering "disasters" back in the late 1960's and through most of the 1970's. That's when side rules and hands on experience began to be replaced by simulation, modeling and things like Computer Aided Drawing and Design (CADD). Many of these failures were the result of inexperienced engineers and designers depending too much on their calculations and not being able to understand when the "ghost in the machine" was not telling them the truth. Although I would not advocate a return to the slide rule the one thing that you had to be able to do to use one was to be able to keep track of the order of magnitude you were working with.

    Engineering failures of that era were not usually due to errors in the CADD modeling or computer calculations, but due to a lack of understanding by the people using them. They were often used with invalid assumptions or in inappropriate situations . Prior to the use of computers to do the massive iterative calculations needed, Space Frame structures were mostly used only where the lightest and strongest structures were absolutely necessary. Dirigibles come to mind. After the computer revolution in computer aided design, they began to appear everywhere and a number of the early ones failed catastrophically.

    My career moved more and more directly into working with computers over the years and I have written code in half a dozen languages, and I can't think of any of them where it wasn't critical to understand whether the output and results you got were REASONABLE.

    If you don't understand how to do what you are automating then it is impossible to automate it well.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Mercedes-Benz has been training there young employees in this fashion for 50 years or more. When you join Mercedes-Benz the first thing you do is file, and file, and file. you make things by hand long before you start putting together any cars.

  • Same in software (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Compiler writers take note.

  • "To be the master of the machine, you have to have the knowledge and the skills to teach the machine."

    Boy, there are some deep lessons and insights here for the Facebook / Twitter / app-for-everything user generation.

    Learn how to use the machine -- or the device -- or it will use you.

  • Dennis DeYoung.

    Domo Arigato.
  • This is a training program, not a production process. They have a few people doing forging by hand, but not to make production parts. See the original article in the Japan Times. [] Toyota's process of continuous improvement of production requires that people working on assembly lines understand the process well enough to suggest improvements. They recognize that they've dumbed down the workforce too much.

    Ford Motor funded the building of the Detroit TechShop for similar reasons. They need more people who h

  • I'm going to make our programmers code everything in machine language so they can learn to be gods.

    Actually, forget machine language, they have to assemble the computer from discrete logic gates!

    • I'm going to make our programmers code everything in machine language so they can learn to be gods.

      Actually, forget machine language, they have to assemble the computer from discrete logic gates!

      Come on man, at least give us paper tape.

COMPASS [for the CDC-6000 series] is the sort of assembler one expects from a corporation whose president codes in octal. -- J.N. Gray