by: Andrew L. Shakely, PE, LEED AP BD+C | NuTec Design Associates, Inc., President
There are many preconceptions people have when asked what they think adding automation and robotics means to a business. One of the first thoughts is often that it will replace human workers and people will lose their jobs.
While robots do replace people performing highly repetitive tasks, automation doesn’t always mean a smaller workforce will result. Sometimes it will actually result in increased staff. How can that be?
Robotics addresses key issues in manufacturing, most of which are not directly tied to reducing payroll costs. Robots can be designed to work in hostile environments that can be hazardous to humans. This could be in paint booths or chemical-hardening operations where toxic materials are used, in dusty operations that pose a risk for explosion, or in environments that are too hot or too cold for human comfort. Robots can remove people from dangerous processes, creating a safer workplace and greatly reducing the liability risk of a manufacturer.
Robots are ideally suited for highly repetitive tasks that require a high degree of precision. They can do jobs that humans find tedious and fatiguing and that can lead to repetitive motion injuries. Robots are capable to performing a task over and over in exactly the same manner, which improves productivity and can greatly reduce part rejects and needed rework. Ever-increasing use of optical sensors allow for greater accuracy and self-adjusting robots. Automation can lead to productivity increases of 30-40%.
With the increase in productivity, additional support staff may be needed in supporting positions to handle the increased product flow. Robots require maintenance and support to operate at peak efficiency. New manufacturing employees with problem-solving and computer skills are needed.
Additionally, a growing trend in robotics is to design the next generation of robots to work beside humans, not replace them. There are still many assembly jobs that are too intricate or variable for robots to do effectively. Today, you often see robots behind guards and enclosures to keep people safe from their rapid movement. Robots already work alongside humans, sorting and supplying parts, holding tools, and taking verbal instruction from them. They are there to support what humans do best.
Automation can bring many advantages to a manufacturing company that can make it more competitive in the marketplace, improve its safety and productivity, and help it to grow and expand. And ultimately, a successful company is a better employer.