We went on a Human Factors field trip on Thursday to a Sony factory an hour outside of Pittsburgh. It was the most interesting part of the class so far. However, it was ironically interesting more as a lesson in global economics and the manufacturing business than in Human Factors.

I’m sure it must have been impressive a few years ago when thousands of people worked there manufacturing big, heavy CRT TVs. It made sense then because TVs were so heavy that it was economical to make them in the US and save on shipping. But now that flat screen TVs are so popular, its cheaper to make TVs in Mexico or China and ship them to the US because they are much lighter. So now there are only 2 production lines at this factory. And robots are increasingly replacing the workers that remain. In fact, one had to wonder to what extent the Human Factors issues that we studied haven’t driven up the cost of US manufacturing and contributed to those jobs going to countries unconcerned with cumulative trauma disorders and people bending over to pick up heavy objects.