Let’s face it: Manufacturing jobs can be difficult at times. Often tedious and potentially dangerous work can lead to high turnover, which means extra manpower to retrain new employees and ensure consistent quality.
Enter robotics, which are serving to take over The Three Ds: The dirty, dull, and dangerous. By tackling those monotonous, unpleasant, or risky jobs, robots are freeing up employees for more rewarding and safer positions—all while helping companies stay competitive in the manufacturing industry.
Robots Don’t Know the Word “Bored”
According to U.S. Census data, the unskilled labor workforce in the U.S.—which filled low-end manufacturing jobs in the past—has steadily declined since 1940. At the same time, there are increasingly more educated, skilled laborers seeking rewarding, interesting entry-level jobs.
The competition to attract and keep workers has led companies to turn to robotics and automation. It’s proving to be a win-win: For one thing, the robots replace repetitive, low-wage positions, allowing employees to work more appealing, career-oriented positions.
Geoff Escalette, CEO of faucet-maker RSS Manufacturing and Phylrich in Costa Mesa, California, reports that any original hesitancy on the part of employees quickly went away once they started working with robotics.
“Originally, they thought they were looking at their replacement,” Escalette says. “But now, we can educate and promote our employees from machine operators to robot programmers and quality control inspectors. Plus, when they realized how easy it was to use and what they’ll eventually be doing with it, they all embraced it. Now they are excited to become the first guy that gets to start programming the robot.”
Robotics also help companies stay competitive when seeking new talent—particularly those who are interested in long-lasting careers working with technology.
“It’s really an opportunity for us to grow,” reports Matt Tyler, president and CEO of Vickers Engineering, a contract precision engineering manufacturer in Michigan. “Because we have robotics and are able to compete on a global scale….It makes the United States more competitive in manufacturing and that’s good for all of us.”
Safety First: Robotics Reduce Workplace Incidents
When it comes to workplace safety, the statistics speak for themselves. According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), there has been roughly one fatality a year in the past 15 years that has involved industrial robots—compared to 4,585 worker deaths in the year 2013 alone (the last year for which figures have been compiled).
A well-publicized fatality this year at a Volkswagen plant in Germany—where a worker was crushed to death—sent up an instant media ripple effect. Yet when one scrolls past the sensational headlines, the tiny print says it all: human error was believed to be the cause. The investigation is still ongoing; read RIA representative Patrick Davison’s statement to learn more.
Canadian shelving system manufacturer Etalex has seen firsthand how robots have greatly improved employee safety. They turned to a collaborative robotic arm to manually unload the brake press—a physically demanding and dangerous job that required eight hours of manual labor a day.
“Before, you had to put your hands close to the brake press,” says machine operator Richard Clive. “There was always a chance of an accident happening at any time. But now, there’s no chance of anyone getting injured.”
As robots continue to prove themselves as the masters of the dirty, dull, and dangerous, companies are increasingly able to attract and keep skilled talent and stay competitive in the manufacturing field—all the while keeping their employees safe.
To learn more about how robots are helping companies stay competitive, visit A3Automate.org.