William D. Marbach, Hope Lampert, William J. Cook,
The Factory of the Future

By analysing existing trends in the factory of the present, it is possible to predict what the factory of the future will look like. Some readers may welcome the technological advances these writers foresee, others may fear them, but all will have to live with them.

The rambling brick factory complex in Erie, Pa., built in 1910, could have become yet another grim symbol of America's indus trial decline. But today, inside the shell of the locomotive plant, General Electric is building one of the world's most advanced factories complete with computers, robots and a dazzling array of the latest manufactur ing technology. The new machines will bring a dramatic gain in productivity: where it now takes 68 skilled machine operators 16 days to build huge locomotive motor frames, the new factory will turn them out in 1 day - with no human workers.
The "factory of the future" is here. In Florence, Ky., Japan's Yamazaki Machinery Works is building a new $15 million machine-tool parts plant, one of the world's first entirely automated factories. When it is completed in 1983, the Yamazaki plant will require only six human workers to tend its master computer, keep an eye on the robots - and sweep the floor. American companies, including giants such as GE, Boeing, Deere & Co. and General Motors, are also pushing to create highly automated manufacturing plants. "U.S. business has three choices in the '80s," says James A. Baker, an executive vice president at GE: "automate, emigrate .... or evaporate." ...
The advent of computer-driven, highly automated factories will have a profound social impact: they will take jobs away from human workers. That, after all, is one of the reasons for building them. "Automation will cause a 20 to 25 percent decline in the factory work force over the next decade," says Thomas G. Gunn, managing director of Arthur D. Little's computer integrated manufacturing group. An internal study done by GE shows that it is now technologically possible for the company 4O replace half of its 37,000 assembly workers with machines. Company officials are quick to point out that they have no plans to do that, and where GE is automating existing plants - at Erie, for instance - it is retraining the displaced workers. Sometimes extensive automation also creates new jobs even as it destroys others. The new automated parts factory in Florence, Ky., for example, will allow Yamazaki to expand production at its manned machine-tool assembly plant nearby; 100 workers will be hired to fill the new jobs....
Whatever the eventual social costs of automation, many companies may have no choice but to install the robots under the threat of severe competition from highly automated manufacturers in Japan and Europe. "Are you going to reduce your work force by 25 percent by putting in robots," says Gunn, "or by 100 percent by going out of business?" The recession may slow the robots' march since many companies are unable - or unwilling - to commit the funds to build costly automated factories. But the technological revolution in the factories has begun, and sweeping changes in the American workplace are sure to follow.

rambling: built as if without plan, spread out over a large area
Pa.(abbr.): Pennsylvania
General Electric: company that manufactures electrical, electronic and atomic products
brightly shining
array: fine show, collection, arrangement in neat rows
motor frame: Motorgehäuse
Ky. (abbr.): Kentucky
machine-tool parts plant
: Fabrik, in der Teile für Werkzeugmaschinen hergestellt werden.
tend: look after
Deere &Co.: manufacturer of farmlng, Indusrial and outdoor power equipment
General Motors: largest American producer of passenger cars
assembly worker: Flissbandarbeiter(in)
displaced: left without employment and pay
happening at last, as a result
under the threat of:
due to the danger from
commit funds to do sth.:
invest money in doing sth.

(adj.): wide-ranging

Understanding the contents

1. What effects will automation have on productivity and on the work force?
2. a) According to James A. Baker, what choices does American business have? b) What does each of the three choices mean?
3. Who are the leading competitors for American industry, and what role do they play?
4. What may be comforting to workers who are currently worried about their jobs?

Analysing the text
5. a) Why may "The Factory of the Future" be considered a report*?
b) Reporters attempt to give their readers comprehensive information on some subjects.
What are the basic questions they should try to answer?
c) In their effort to report objectively, the writers not only rely on facts, they also call on other people as witnesses.
In what two different ways do they bring in other people's thoughts?
6. In this text the elements of a report are mixed with subjective, story-like elements. Whereas a feature story* arouses human interest by placing special emphasis on an individual's personal experience, this kind of report stresses new developments and interprets their importance for society in general. It can be called an interpretive news story. a) Name some of the topics that are interpreted. b) What function do the two examples of automated factories have in the interpretation?
7. a) The writers choose a number of emotive* words, adjectives, nouns and verbs. Find two from each word class.
b) Look for superlatives and a particular adjective which is frequently used and nearly always qualified by an adverb of degree.
c) What general effects do the writers bring about by this choice of words?

Working with the language
8. a) Which tense group is mainly used in this text? b) What function does this tense group have in this interpretive news story? c) What does "will" express in contrast to "going to" ?
9. What basic differences in use are there between simple and progressive forms?
10. Infer the meaning of the following words or expressions by looking for synonyms, antonyms or examples the writers use to illustrate their point: "decline" , "plant" , "gain" , "giant" , "profound social impact" , "create" , "expand produc tion" and "reduce your work force" .

Going beyond the text

11. Check the meaning, usage and history of the word "robot" in your dictionary or some other reference book. Report your findings to the class.
12. Study a daily newspaper and collect news about automation and its effects. Write a report on any trends you may observe.
13. Discuss the saying, "You can't stop time by smashing clocks."

* see glossary