Imagine an oil change in a dealership service lane completed in minutes and needing neither a lift nor a trench.
Or a tire rotation done — hands-free — while a service tech works on another vehicle.
A customer needs new tires? No problem. Park the car in the bay, input some data, and watch as a highly paid service technician moves on to deal with issues that require more of his brain and less of his brawn.
A mushrooming revolution in robotics — a revolution that promises to alter an estimated 95 percent of occupations in the broader economy — could make these things not just possible, but a reality in dealer fixed operations.
Robotics promise dramatic improvements in productivity, consistency and safety for dealer service and parts operations. The technology potentially could transform the way service technicians do their jobs, and it would allow techs for the first time to use their senses and minds far more than their hands.
But will these potentially expensive machines — new tire mounting machines, for example, can run $30,000 — improve profitability enough to justify their initial development?
That remains a multibillion-dollar open question, and the question likely to determine just how deeply the coming robotics revolution will take root in back-end shops.
"The timing might not be as near term as some people might imagine," explains Mehdi Miremadi, co-author of a comprehensive January report by the McKinsey Global Institute on the future of automated work across the global economy. McKinsey & Co. is a global management consulting firm.
Miremadi studied job functions in automobile dealerships and found that between 30 and 50 percent of the work currently being performed by humans could conceivably be done by machines in the future. While that might seem like a huge potential productivity gain in favor of automation, Miremadi cautions that an impeding factor is likely to stifle development.
"Technology has to be cost competitive with human labor, and right now technology in its current form is simply too cost prohibitive," he said. "Also remember the economy has to make room for the new jobs and skill sets that will be necessary to operate and program these machines."