Asking the Wrong Questions about Automation

Many people are worrying about automation taking away jobs, but Donald Norman has a different question to ask. Why, he wonders, is there so much emphasis on human error in industrial settings?

“Over 90% of industrial… accidents are blamed on human error with distraction listed as a major cause. Can this be true?” he asks.  “Look, if 5% of accidents were caused by human error, I would believe it. But when it is 90%, there must be some other reason, namely, that people are asked to do tasks that people should not be doing. Tasks that violate fundamental human abilities.”

Human errors

If you only have humans, industrial machines, and electricity in a space, the number of errors available to the humans is much larger than the errors the other items can accomplish.

But Norman has specific kinds of errors in mind. He’s thinking about people doing repetitive tasks in apparent service to the machines they operate. He points out that they have to be alert while doing these repetitive tasks, ready to respond to the needs of the machines. Getting distracted in this situation is a natural human reaction.

Manufacturing isn’t as hypnotic as he might think. Operating machines is often physically taxing, and it requires quite a bit of action.

Norman would like to see a less techno-centric workplace. A human-centric workplace, which helped people focus on the kinds of activities humans are good at, would be better for us, he figures. Machines then could be called on to help us, to do the things that machines are better at than humans.

More and better automation

In fact, Norman seems to be asking for more and better automation. Automation is already removing many of those tedious, repetitive jobs from human workers and improving their lives as a result.

As for errors, your Rexroth electric industrial motion control systems will let you know when your machines make errors. When that happens, you can give us a call. We may not serve your machines, but we offer all the service you need. Our goal is to help you get your machines up and running as fast as possible, with as little downtime as possible.


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