The Human Arm: Why You Need Human Labour


Automation is the rising trend in packaging. It’s cheaper, faster, and more reliable. But machines can’t think ─ human labour can.


Remember when we talked about the mechanical arm some weeks ago, and how human labour was starting to lose ground to automation? At one point in the article, we highlighted that:

[quote style=”boxed”]“There’s a whole lot of new businesses taking advantage of this new automation trend ─ it’s benefits are, mainly, a much higher production output coupled by a much lower need for human input, which brings great dangers to employment.”[/quote]

And that’s still on the table, (of course), but we realised that we didn’t talk about the benefits or inherent values of human labour. What does human labour offer that can’t be replicated ─ that can’t be automated by machine?

Mainly, it’s thought. Machines can’t think: they just obey. Hence, they can’t distinguish good from bad. They’re incapable of controlling quality, adapting, or rethinking. Moreover, they break.

That’s why both arms should work together, as noticed by a recent feature on Packaging Today quoting Alastair Isbister, VP Consumer and Tradeteam at DHL Supply Chain:

[quote style=”boxed”]“It is important that whilst investing in new machinery you continually invest in your team members – together they are the perfect combination. Combining the technology on site with your talented team is the best way to create an efficient operation – whilst human error will always be at play, machines too can suffer faults, breakdown or malfunction at a crucial moment in your supply chain.”[/quote]

When combined, both workforces get enhanced. Skilled workers can spot faults, ensure smooth processes and resolve issues, Isbister said; but machines will always be faster, more productive, and more reliable. It’s only in the blend that full potential can be reached.

Besides, there’s something else to be considered: personalisation, which only comes from care, a feature that machines are completely incapable of.

[quote style=”boxed”]“Manual operations can create more personal products a demand that machines cannot always fulfil. One key role of co-packing providers is to create adapted packs or more personal items from the initial run of products. It is easier for a machine to put the wrong item in a pack than for a member of your skilled team to do so.”[/quote]

Developing the complex systems needed to handle randomness and forecasting is beyond the current scope of labour automation. Arms are being automated at a fast pace, but brains are still too far.

Let’s keep it that way.


Sponsored by Derprosa, leading brand in biaxially oriented polypropylene films for packaging.