With consumer demands more stringent than ever, the ability for manufacturers to consistently produce affordable, high-quality products for on-time delivery is key to maintaining competitive edge. For many operations, however, this benchmark is increasingly difficult to meet.
According to the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), 71% of manufacturers find it increasingly harder to find skilled workers1
. This workforce shortage reality, combined with the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Institute’s prediction that 4.6 million manufacturing jobs will need to be filled in the United States over the next decade – with the prospect of 2.4 million of those going unfilled due to lack of training2
– is prompting manufacturers to take strategic action to meet operational goals.
Simple Ways to Solving Workforce Shortages with Robots
One key method for addressing ongoing labor shortages is via robotic automation. With research showing that companies may increase productivity by nearly 30%, with a potential cost reduction of up to 50%3
, the use of robust yet affordable robots to address operational challenges is gaining traction. When it comes to implementing robots to successfully deal with ongoing labor shortages, manufacturers can take multiple approaches:
Automate Quick Tasks that Cause Burnout
Possibly the easiest action for company leaders to take is to look for “the D’s” – dull, dirty, dangerous or disliked jobs on the production floor. Using high-performance robots to automate these tasks – especially those requiring high repeatability like assembly, fastening, insertion, sorting, picking, packing, and stacking – can help free workers from injury-prone actions and redeploy their talent to value-added jobs. This goes a long way to boosting employee morale for lower employee turnover, and it typically results in amplified worker productivity.
Similarly, robotic implementation is proven to optimize throughput and reduce costs for a variety of repeatable applications. Robots – industrial and collaborative alike, that feature one or several collaborative modes (Power and Force Limiting (PFL), Hand Guiding, Speed and Separation Monitoring, and Safety Monitored Stop) – are increasingly being used for tasks such as machine tending, palletizing, welding and more, resulting in highly flexible, productive workspaces. “Current applications and work cells that use two manual workers are typically good candidates for collaborative robotic automation,” offers Chris Caldwell, Product Manager of Material Handling at Yaskawa Motoman. “These workspaces can often be retooled to feature one worker and robot, extending the work that can be done when a company is short-handed.”
Company leaders looking to add robots to current operations should seek the advice of an experienced robot supplier or integrator. This will set the stage for a plant audit, and it will be the best way to answer any questions regarding workflow that may arise during the decision-making process. While a single robot or pre-engineered workcell is usually sufficient for most manufacturers, there are unique situations that require a custom design and build.
Multiply the productivity of your skilled talent
Implementing a robot for a repetitive task then redeploying a highly skilled worker to another area on the production floor is one of the best moves a company leader can make to smooth workforce challenges. “This is especially true for experienced welders,” continues Leath, “as they bring valuable expertise about filler metal, welding parameters, torch angles and much more to the robot programming process that will varying depending on your parts and material.” While there are intelligent tools, like Yaskawa’s Universal Weldcom Interface (UWI)
, to help operators with many weld concepts, having a knowledgeable worker with prior experience eases the robot programming learning curve and can accelerate the integration process, causing less downtime for greater throughput and ROI. The programming of other applications such as cutting, finishing, painting and coating can also greatly benefit from a skilled tradesperson.
Add a collaborative robot to a current process
Robotic automation has come a long way from strictly being used in very controlled environments where low-mix, high-volume production was the only viable and cost-effective option for a reasonable ROI. Traditional industrial robots with complex programming and physical protective barriers have given way to easy-to-program and quickly redeployable robots engineered to work safely with or alongside human workers.
Robots – industrial and collaborative
alike, that feature one or several collaborative modes (Power and Force Limiting (PFL), Hand Guiding, Speed and Separation Monitoring, and Safety Monitored Stop) – are increasingly being used for tasks such as machine tending, palletizing, welding and more, resulting in highly flexible, productive workspaces. “Current applications and work cells that use two manual workers are typically good candidates for collaborative robotic automation,” offers Chris Caldwell, Product Manager of Material Handling at Yaskawa Motoman. “These workspaces can often be retooled to feature one worker and robot, extending the work that can be done when a company is short-handed.”
Invest in the workforce of the future
While the use of advanced technology, including robotic automation, is key for production efficiency and increased competitive edge, so too is investing in workforce development. Company leaders that actively identify the necessary skills required on the production floor and invest in the appropriate training will be better poised to handle disruption when it occurs. Whether upskilling their current workforce through a state funded certification program, like Ohio TechCred
, or using other avenues, such as training at Yaskawa Academy
, to educate employees on robotic automation, multiple ways exist for employers to reskill their employees.
Most importantly, manufacturers should actively foster a high level of enthusiasm for advanced manufacturing careers within their local communities. Whether through event sponsorships, workforce partnerships, apprenticeship programs or something else, cultivating tomorrow’s workforce through STEM-centric events and programs will go a long way toward future success.
Move Forward on Your Robotics Journey Today
While any one of these options can be advantageous to long-term success, achieving them in unison may be even more advantageous. To talk to a robotics expert or schedule a plant audit to see where robots could optimize your current operations, contact us
1 2019 1st Quarter Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey | NAM, National Association of Manufacturers, 2019
2 What is the Future of Advanced Automation and Robotics Jobs, Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute, 2021
3 Efficiency Analysis of Manufacturing Line with Industrial Robots and Human Operations, MDPI, 2020