In the 1970s, American automakers dreamt of completely automated factories reducing the workforce as a way to compete with the Japanese competition making its way into the American car market. As it turned out, though, automation didn’t reduce the need for people to be on the lines, keeping the lines moving and building the cars.

But competitive globalisation had not been taken into account. Today, reduced headcount and increased leisure are not options; the remaining employees are working harder than ever.

Factory automation has come a long way since then. And it has plenty of room to grow.

Many of the new production methods in the next manufacturing revolution will require fewer people working in factories, and some lights-out manufacturing is now possible.

Manufacturing will still need people, if not so many in the factory itself. Automated machines need people to design, program and service them.

As manufacturing transforms into a high-tech workplace, the new generation of process and automation engineers and technicians will be completely different – they will have grown up with the Internet, smartphones and video games.

The next step in factory automation still won’t remove the need for people in the manufacturing sector, but as it continues to change, it will change the way those people work.

Read more about the future of factory automation.