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Labor costs, shortage, increasing reliability: Why we're seeing more robots inside plants

Breana Noble and Kalea Hall, The Detroit News on

Published in Automotive News

Automation at Detroit Three plants

In addition to the truck plant at Fort Wayne, GM is also increasing automation at aftersale parts distribution centers. It pointed to work being done at a warehouse in Charlotte, North Carolina, that is reducing stress on workers. GM is investing $23 million there to modernize operations at the facility.

The investment will be used to maximize storage, reduce physically demanding work and improve order fulfillment times by implementing an automated storage and retrieval system where machines pull specific parts from shelving to reduce how much walking and lifting employees have to do; robotics and conveyance systems to bring materials to employees; and autonomous mobile robots to bring orders to employees for shipping.

GM also made more than $120.5 million in investments at its Customer Care and Aftersales facilities in Memphis, Tennessee; Ypsilanti and Burton near Flint. These investments also brought new technology to increase workplace safety.

According to the company’s contract with the UAW, it must notify the local union about the introduction of “new or advanced technology” to allow “meaningful discussion of its impact.” If unresolved issues ensue, the contract does outline a grievance procedure.

The UAW didn't provide comment on automation in response to multiple inquiries.


Ford Motor Co. says this year it's cutting $2 billion to cover increased labor and product refreshments costs. On an investor call late last year, Chief Financial Officer John Lawler mentioned “opportunities in automation” in reference to covering the cost of the new UAW contract, in addition to reductions in vehicle combinations.

In a news release last week, the Dearborn automaker highlighted that its new Tennessee Electric Vehicle Center, set to begin deliveries of its next-generation electric truck in 2026, will be the automaker’s first “Industry 4.0 plant, combining automation and connectivity to help elevate quality and efficiency.”

Ford declined an interview to discuss its automation plans.

During a tour of its Dearborn Truck Plant producing F-150 trucks on Thursday in Dearborn, Plant Manager Corey Williams emphasized many of the technologies being added to the plant are to simplify workers' jobs or make them more efficient. With the 2024 refresh of the pickup, he pointed to additional cameras added during the quality check process to flag fixes up the line.


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