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Robots, Industry 4.0 and Humans, or Why Assembly Work Is More than Routine Work

Author

Listed:
  • Sabine Pfeiffer

    () (Department of Sociology (550D), University of Hohenheim, Wollgrasweg 23, 70599 Stuttgart, Germany)

Abstract

This article condenses the key findings of qualitative studies on assembly work. Grounded conceptually in considerations of the role of experiential knowledge and living labor capacity with regard to informal expertise and tacit knowledge, the empirical results challenge the dominant view of assembly work as routine tasks that could easily be replaced by robotics. The empirical basis comprised of 62 qualitative interviews in five assembly plants provides answers to two questions: Are there non-routine aspects to be found in assembly work today? What exactly is the nature of experience in assembly work? The detailed research results are presented in three steps: the first focuses on the role of the non-routine in core assembly tasks; the second discusses the important and increasing role played by interactive capabilities in assembly work to ensure high performance, quality, and a smooth material flow; and the third highlights the usually neglected role of assembly workers in processes of innovation and organizational learning. The concluding chapter discusses the findings from the perspective of new technological options in robotics, possible worker resistance and effects on employment.

Suggested Citation

  • Sabine Pfeiffer, 2016. "Robots, Industry 4.0 and Humans, or Why Assembly Work Is More than Routine Work," Societies, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 6(2), pages 1-26, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:gam:jsoctx:v:6:y:2016:i:2:p:16-:d:69337
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. David H. Autor & Frank Levy & Richard J. Murnane, 2003. "The skill content of recent technological change: an empirical exploration," Proceedings, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, issue Nov.
    2. Frey, Carl Benedikt & Osborne, Michael A., 2017. "The future of employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerisation?," Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Elsevier, vol. 114(C), pages 254-280.
    3. Steven D. Levitt & John A. List & Chad Syverson, 2013. "Toward an Understanding of Learning by Doing: Evidence from an Automobile Assembly Plant," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 121(4), pages 643-681.
    4. Nye, David E., 2013. "America's Assembly Line," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262018715.
    5. Kaivo-oja, Jari & Roth, Steffen, 2015. "The Technological Future of Work and Robotics," EconStor Preprints 118693, ZBW - German National Library of Economics.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    More about this item

    Keywords

    assembly work; laboring capacity; tacit knowledge; automatization; Industry 4.0; robotics;

    JEL classification:

    • A13 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Relation of Economics to Social Values
    • A14 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Sociology of Economics
    • P - Economic Systems
    • P0 - Economic Systems - - General
    • P1 - Economic Systems - - Capitalist Systems
    • P2 - Economic Systems - - Socialist Systems and Transition Economies
    • P3 - Economic Systems - - Socialist Institutions and Their Transitions
    • P4 - Economic Systems - - Other Economic Systems
    • P5 - Economic Systems - - Comparative Economic Systems
    • Z1 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics

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