Automation continues to play a larger role throughout the global manufacturing industry. New technologies and a dwindling talent pool have lead industry leaders to rely more heavily on robotics. However, not all manufacturers are excited about the idea of robots stepping in for human employees and some fear a day when automated systems outperform the human workforce.
These ears might not be justified. Automation and robotics may have taken impressive steps forward in the past few year but they are still not able to replicate the human element in manufacturing. The days of an entirely automated manufacturing industry are still ways away and the human element is still very much essential.
1. Redistributing the Workforce
It is true that robots are capable of taking over when it comes to simple, repetitive tasks. However, this doesn’t mean individuals that once performed those duties have become obsolete. Robots, as with any technology, will need to maintained and repaired throughout its life.
A manufacturer that retrains their current workforce to handle this new machinery is at an incredible advantage. Businesses have found that looking for technology specialists to work in a manufacturing facility is incredibly difficult. Instead of spending the time and money looking for new employees, a retraining program could provide all the talent a modern manufacturer needs. In this case, the workforce wouldn’t be lost because of new robotics systems, it would be redistributed.
2. Enhancing the Current Workforce
Not all robots are created equal. Some are better at performing repetitive tasks while others are specifically designed to assist the human workforce. Collaborative robots have made a huge impression on modern manufacturers and one of the key applications of these systems is boosting productivity.
Collaborative robots, also known as Co-Bots are robotic systems that can work alongside humans without the threat of injury. They can hold heavy industrial components in place, allowing a person to comfortably work on the inside or underside of a product. This can eliminate or at the very least drastically reduce the need for heavy lifting equipment to be hauled around the entire facility. Baxter, RethinkRobotics Co-Bot can be easily wheeled around a facility and can be easily reprogrammed to handle a new task. This could dramatically increase the productivity of the business as a whole.
3. Humans vs. Robots – Dexterity
Technology still has its limitations especially when it comes to robotics, for example, I am very doubtful that a robot would be able to do any hydraulic cylinder repairs! Regardless of that, robots have come a long way but there are still certain tasks that are better left to the human element. Manufacturing processes that require a high-level of dexterity will still require a person to take control as robots simply can’t keep up. Robots still have a hard time matching the level of dexterity that a human can achieve.
When it comes to a smaller manufacturing operation, robotics can instead step in and assist with repetitive tasks, freeing up the human workforce to work on processes that require a high level of dexterity or critical thinking. If a robot can take over some repetitive tasks, the human employee can spend the majority of their day working on these delicate procedures instead. This could have a direct impact on the productivity of a manufacturing facility.
4. Collaboration & Innovation
One area where humans still outshine robotics systems is the ability to collaborate and innovate. Robots follow their programming with no room for improvisation. A human employee can locate inefficiencies in a manufacturing process and resolve it with a little creative thinking. This can be as small as moving a fastener box over a few shelves to cut down on on travel time or as big as solidifying a partnership with a new supplier to drive down costs and improve a manufacturers supply chain. Humans will still be a necessary force on the shop floor in order to continually improve. The humans on the shop floor can identify issues and come up with new ways to address bottlenecks. Robots will continue to follow their program until an issue stops a production line in its tracks.
With all the technology making its way into manufacturing facilities around the globe, manufacturers fear the end of the human workforce. But these concerns aren’t necessarily based in reality as the human element is very much a critical component of the modern manufacturing industry. There are still tasks that robots cannot perform or not nearly as well when compared to their human counterparts. Furthermore, new machinery will call for new technicians and engineers to ensure the robots remain in working condition. As more robots enter the workforce, it won’t be the apocalyptic end of the human workforce as many fear. Instead, it could be the next step toward a brighter manufacturing future.