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Welcome to the official blog of the International Society of Automation (ISA).

This blog covers numerous topics on industrial automation such as operations & management, continuous & batch processing, connectivity, manufacturing & machine control, and Industry 4.0.

The material and information contained on this website is for general information purposes only. ISA blog posts may be authored by ISA staff and guest authors from the automation community. Views and opinions expressed by a guest author are solely their own, and do not necessarily represent those of ISA. Posts made by guest authors have been subject to peer review.

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Designing Automation With Humans in Mind

Designing automation with humans in mind can unlock unique benefits for businesses, but it requires shifting focus to employees. Automation strategies typically focus on monetary benefits, such as low downtime or high efficiency. Other crucial success factors tend to get left out, like employee satisfaction or injury rates. 

Human-centered automation prioritizes employees’ needs and safety. It involves building a strategy that benefits the workforce and the business alike. Here’s how companies can design a human-friendly automation strategy. 

 

Goals of Human-Centered Automation 

Designing automation with humans in mind requires taking a fresh approach. Conventionally, the goals of technologies like AI or robotics focus on metrics like maximum efficiency or higher throughput. These are important, but they’re not always front-and-center in human-centered automation. 

Instead, businesses must shift their focus to the needs of their employees. It’s vital to remember that they bring unique strengths to the workplace that machines cannot replace. So, rather than automating jobs, create goals to maximize workers’ skills and strengths. 

For example, a manufacturing company might include safety metrics in its ROI assessment of a new automation strategy. Other human-centered goals include employee satisfaction and turnover rates. 

Set efficiency and productivity goals, but remember to carefully compare them to safety and employee satisfaction rates. Increased efficiency coupled with lots of injuries is not conducive to a good human-centered automation strategy. 

 

Prioritize Safety 

Safety should be the top priority when designing automation with humans in mind. Automation can bring amazing benefits to any business but can also increase the risk of employees getting injured on the job. Research shows that industrial robots can increase and decrease injury rates depending on how they are implemented in the workplace. 

When automation causes an increase in injuries, it is usually due to a lack of preparation among employees. Accidents are much more likely to occur if employees don’t have adequate training to safely use or work around robots and other automated equipment. Luckily, there are a few ways business leaders can design their strategies to minimize risk and maximize safety. 

For example, a work area’s floor plan is a major factor. Injuries are a high possibility if a workplace’s layout forces employees to be near potentially dangerous automated equipment. 

Carefully map out and analyze the floor plan before installing robots and automated cells. Consider widening walkways or rerouting them away from high-risk areas. It may also be possible to reorganize the floor plan so robots and other hazardous equipment are isolated from the main walkways. Businesses can add more safety features, such as caution tape on floors, safety fencing and barriers around machines. 

The type of automated equipment a business selects also impacts workplace safety. Consider opting for collaborative robots (cobots), which are designed with humans in mind. They are specifically engineered to minimize safety risks and work alongside humans. Of course, using cobots for every automation application may not be feasible, but they are worth considering whenever possible. 

 

Choose the Right Applications 

One of the most common mistakes businesses make in automation is selecting the wrong applications or tasks. Some processes are better suited for employees to handle. Other times, a job is best completed by combining the skills of humans and robots. Remember, automation is not a one-size-fits-all solution. 

When creating a human-centered automation strategy, businesses must choose the right tasks to automate. These are different for every company, but leaders can use various tactics to identify them. 

Analyze the workplace and identify the areas, tasks, or processes with the highest injury and error rates. These are often the best opportunities for improvement through automation. 

For example, human error is a common source of delays and financial loss, although automation can often resolve it. Welding or laser engraving mistakes can cause downtime and create waste since they are difficult to repair. Luckily, these tasks are often simple or repetitive enough for a robot to perform them autonomously. 

When deciding what tasks to automate, look for a combination of challenges and repetition. This intersection often presents many great applications for automated technologies. Talk to employees, as well. They can shed light on challenges and inefficiencies that may not be obvious through data alone. Plus, worker input is vital for the success of any human-centered automation strategy. 

 

Provide Support and Training 

Mental and physical health are top considerations when designing automation with humans in mind. Getting wrapped up in exciting efficiency boosts or lower error rates is often easy. However, the well-being of employees can take a significant toll when businesses bring robots to the workplace. 

Research shows employees can experience increased mental health challenges and stress when working around robots. There are a few reasons for this. In some workplaces, employers may make the mistake of encouraging workers to match machine productivity. This is an unsafe and potentially even unfair standard to set. It can increase stress and lead to more physical injuries. 

Additionally, employees often feel resentful or scared when businesses start utilizing automation. It’s common for people to fear losing their jobs or having their pay cut when robots begin taking over their tasks at work. These fears can lead to depression or force workers to push themselves physically, leading to accidents and injuries. 

Successful human-centered automation must include measures to support and prepare employees for new technologies in the workplace. Training is critical. Simply understanding how to use and work around robots safely can significantly reduce the risk of an accident. 

Businesses should also clarify that employees aren’t at risk of losing their jobs. Emphasize that the robots are there to help them, not replace them. If possible, assign a leadership member to be an automation ambassador, someone employees can come to with concerns or questions about any new tech in the workplace. 

 

The Benefits of Human-Centered Automation

Designing automation with people in mind requires increased creativity and collaboration with employees. However, human-centered automation can bring unique, valuable benefits when businesses put in the effort. Increased employee satisfaction and safety ensure companies maximize their equipment’s ROI. Plus, happier workers result in less turnover, allowing everyone to do safe, rewarding work.

Ellie Gabel
Ellie Gabel
Ellie is a freelance writer who also works as an associate editor for Revolutionized.com. She covers the latest innovations in the tech and science space for an audience of industry professionals

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