According to the people I'm talking to in the auto industry, more generalists (to use Nancy's definition) are needed. I keep hearing how one person is now replacing three by being able to operate muiltiple machines.
Nancy, In this context, generalist means an operator that also has experience with other machines on the line. The theory is that this helps develop a better understanding and appreciation for the entire process.
naperlou, your comment "Of course, this means that you will need better trained personnel" was also my first thought. It really takes the operator task to a completely different level and calls for different skill sets.
From what is being described (if I understand it correctly), the decision-making process for complex processes is being incorporated into the operator function rather than the more functional roles of the past that required a separate engineering response under certain conditions. Of course additional education for a redefined role would normally require increase in pay rates, yet from what is being described, the programmer/engineering function would still be needed, they would just be somewhat freed up for other tasks.
It sounds to me like what we have in a traditional semiconductor manufacturer environment. From my personal experience, I would usually see an engineer assigned a product line with one or two technicians working for him. The techs are usually very sharp and can perform many of the jobs that fall under the engineer's tasks, and often know the products better since they work closely with them on a daily basis. They have received training at a tech school or extensive hands on experience in order to be able to perform their tasks, and their pay grade is above an operator that runs the tests sets that tests the products. We wouldn't ask a tech to run a test set - it wouldn't be cost effective. And we wouldn't ask an operator to make decisions that they were not trained for.
I'm not sure how this would all play out in an automated high capacity manufacturing environment since I have no direct experience with that - but it seems to me that while on the surface the generalist idea may be a good one, the proposed paradigm would be costly to implement and would in fact, cause jobs to be lost for a strata of manufacturing that have valuable skill sets (operators) but may not have the potential or aspiration for the technical training that would be required.
Al, this seems to be another move toward the flexible manufacturing cell. This is something that has been coming for a long time. Actually, there are many implementations, but I do not think it is a majority. Of course, this means that you will need better trained personnel.
I can also see an integration with Big Data resources. This would allow the people on the line to see and respond to changes as they occur.
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