We are presently vacationing in Amsterdam. Yesterday was the completion of travel day with an afternoon of sightseeing before a long sleep.

A visit to the Amsterdam Museum took us through 700 or so years of history.

Most remarkable to me, perhaps, were the paintings depicting the changes from commercialism to industrialization. The city became remarkably dirty—and crowded.

Most telling were the pictures of the men working throughout the early industrialization. Dirty, dangerous, back-breaking work.

It was only in the early 90s when I first visited a customer whose work was primarily matching metal parts. The floors were slick with cutting fluids and machine oils. Metal chips were strewn everywhere. The noise was (literally) deafening. Men had jobs where they repetitively lifted heavy objects. Even though some safety measures had been implemented by the 1980s, danger still lurked.

Within 10 years, advances in automation and machine design allowed:

  • Enclosed machining centers reduced noise
  • Aisles were cleaned, no longer slippery
  • Heavy loads were now handled with ergonomic devices
  • Improved lighting allowed people to see better
  • Reduced electrical enclosure sizes made the plant more visually appealing
  • Production proceeded with much less screaming from foremen and superintendents

And much more. We have reduced so much danger. We have improved productivity and product quality. We have upgraded the jobs to allow people to use skills and knowledge. We have come a long way.

However, in our future automation, it is essential for society that we keep humans in mind when we design our machines and systems.

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