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AI has become a real headline-grabber — and for good reason, with many capabilities that give it the potential to completely reshape the manufacturing industry as a whole. But while AI will undoubtedly become even more important to manufacturing in the years to come, this doesn’t mean that skilled labor is going to be replaced entirely.

Yes, there are certain tasks that AI and robots will be better suited for than human workers. But at the same time, this doesn’t mean that skilled laborers are going to be replaced. Instead, AI has the potential to unleash the full capabilities of skilled laborers, who will continue to be very much needed in an AI-dominated world.

Skilled Labor Provides Essential Problem-Solving Capabilities

AI is often used to solve problems or predict outcomes from possible business decisions. But AI isn’t always present on the shop floor. It doesn’t physically handle the finished products, or the machinery that is used to produce them. And even when AI-powered machines are present, they are often relatively limited in what tasks they can accomplish.

Skilled laborers are present on the floor. They’re managing the machines. They’re checking the quality of the products. Identifying and resolving these problems requires expertise gained from years of experience on the job, as well as critical thinking and other creative and technical skills to solve problems before they disrupt manufacturing processes.

The hands-on approach allows skilled labor to provide a more immediate response to any problems that arise. Skilled laborers also have the capabilities to recognize potential issues long before they would be flagged by an AI.

This can even be a safety issue in manufacturing facilities. As a report from the Financial Post highlights, robots tend to lack the common sense of human workers. While a human would quickly perceive that a harness is giving way and about to drop a heavy load, robots are less capable of immediately pinpointing the problem.

By keeping skilled labor on the manufacturing floor, you can ultimately ensure much better productivity, avoid unnecessary downtime and even unlock new, innovative solutions that draw on their unique knowledge and expertise.

While it is true that AI can certainly supplement these roles (and even catch or identify issues that might be overlooked by living, breathing workers), the best solution is when both skilled labor and AI play a role in identifying and solving manufacturing problems.

AI Can’t Replicate the Human Touch

Research from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas increasingly indicates that even high-wage, high-skilled workers are likely to be exposed to job disruption as AI becomes better able to substitute a larger range of tasks. And while there are many tasks that AI can become a viable substitute for, it cannot replace the human touch that is so often a key differentiator in manufacturing.

Indeed, depending on the product category, there are many products where customers prefer items that are handcrafted — in which each product is unique. Handmade products also frequently have a reputation for superior quality and more sustainable production methods.

There is great appeal in being able to give or receive a gift that is unique. An analysis from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University notes that we perceive products that have had more human effort involved as having greater value than generic mass-produced items.

In these instances, skilled labor can become a powerful option for creating unique products that stand out even more in the mind of the consumer. The sense of exclusivity, scarcity, authenticity, craftsmanship and even emotional value that stem from handcrafted products all make skilled labor a continued necessity.

Machines Can’t Handle All Manufacturing Tasks

The human touch doesn’t just come into play when making e-commerce products more custom or giving them a handcrafted look. AI and robots simply can’t match the capabilities of skilled labor in a variety of tasks.

As a report from NPR illustrates, Volvo’s assembly line relies on human workers to attach vehicle components like the hood, trunk and bumpers. Humans are also superior at feeling for imperfections in the metal body of a vehicle — the literal human touch becoming a key advantage. Human workers are also much more capable at more complicated tasks, like manually snaking wires or threading together parts with complex shapes.

Of course, the NPR report also notes that there are tasks where automated machinery performs better than humans, such as certain aspects of assembly and quality control. But many tasks are more intuitive and inherently better suited for skilled laborers. Quite simply, it’s easier to train a person to handle these tasks than it is to train a machine.

With skilled labor, you can effectively produce more complex and unique products than if you relied on robots alone, allowing you to present a wider range of high-value items to your target audience.

Skilled Labor Remains a Vital Part of Manufacturing

Even as AI allows many processes to become more efficient and streamlined, it does not eliminate the importance of skilled labor in manufacturing. After all, for e-commerce businesses to stand out in an increasingly competitive marketplace, the human element that is only made possible through skilled labor can ultimately be the most important differentiator of all.

By ensuring that skilled labor remains an important part of your manufacturing processes, you will be better equipped to prevent and address manufacturing issues, create products with a human touch that is more appealing to potential buyers and ensure that you can efficiently process complex manufacturing tasks.

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