With added competition in the machining space, the demand for more complex parts, and the expectation of shorter lead times, automation is on the rise in machine shops. Although automation and the use of robots in manufacturing processes have been around for over 30 years, the digital age is making it easier than ever to implement automation. In the U.S., 30 percent of machine shops have already implemented automation and 75 percent of the remaining machine shops have automation plans in the pipeline.
Meanwhile, the skilled workforce is shrinking at a drastic rate. According to a report by American Action Forum, by 2029 employers in nearly every state will face some sort of shortage of workers. Despite the challenges of hiring skilled workers, manufacturing demand is at an all-time high. With high levels of competition and demanding customers, the need for machine shops to deliver quickly and efficiently has never been as critical as it is today.
To help address the labor shortfall, machine shops are looking to automation. Introducing automation into the manufacturing process does not mean replacing skilled workers. It means reallocating worker talents and skills in the most beneficial and productive way. Rather than having individuals working on mundane, repetitive tasks, they are freed up to work on other pressing projects. This gives skilled workers more of a sense of career fulfillment and pride, something today’s generation craves in the workforce. This not only keeps employees happy, but it also helps propel your business forward without increasing employment overhead.
It is easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of technology and information being fed into the industry, but it is important to remember that large changes don’t happen overnight. Implementing small changes over time will add up to large shifts in businesses and mindsets. Continuous improvement goes hand in hand with automation implementation, especially when running lights out. You must work to improve processes in order to account for everything that could go wrong when nobody is around.
Automation is not something to be afraid of. However, it is important to ensure that the right processes and safety measures (e.g., fire suppression, emergency stops, tool break sensors, machine monitoring) are in place to ensure your shop and staff is safe and protected as productivity increases.