By Ben Mintz, Technical Specialist, NEFF Automation
If you are like most manufacturers, you find yourself questioning if the positions you created are actually posted and available publicly due to the lack of applications. In one case, a posting for an engineering position went 6 weeks before the first application was received. With many industries facing record demand for products and a shortage of employees, it can create a desperate situation. You don’t have to look far on LinkedIn to read about hiring mistakes that can disrupt the company culture, further compounding the problems. Robotics and automation is a clear answer. But with needs to produce product and ship now, how can you begin adopting such technology and deploy it with such limited resources? How can you successfully move forward automation projects that require an even higher level of experience employee when you can’t even find ones from a larger talent pool?
It’s no secret that the generation now entering the workforce has been raised with and can quickly embrace new technology. What is also clear is the same generation has not been made aware of manufacturing as a career choice. Studies show that this next generation workforce are more focused about job satisfaction and making a difference than seeking out a position with no fulfillment but higher pay. Take a moment to think about the opportunity that presents.
If your current posting for machine operator is not getting any response, what if you advertised your position as a robot programmer, no experience necessary? One local manufacturing company has embraced this approach, “we have used these automation projects to recruit and retain our technical professionals, especially our college interns. When interviewing students, buzz words like 3D printing, collaborative robots, and industrial vision systems are great sales/recruiting tools.“
Neff is a leading provider for Universal Robots, the leading technology in the collaborative robot space. With many years of experience deploying these solutions, what we see as the true benefit of robots has much less to do with the collaborative capabilities and far more to do with the ease and speed of implementation. The best analogy for modern robots is perhaps the smart phone. When you pull out your phone and can instantly tell people exactly what time you will arrive because of traffic, it has nothing to do with your knowledge of the local roads. It was only a matter of using the right application from the app store. What if the robot was simply a tool and there were apps you can download to tackle your specific application?
The UR+ ecosystem, which serves as their version of the app store, contains over 340 certified kits. These proven solutions allow manufactures to quickly tackle a range of applications such as screw driving, palletizing, dispensing, welding and more. Imagine being able to deploy your robot in 1-2 days with no experience, that is what’s possible and this is a key reason for the exponential growth in deployments these robots are seeing.
While many people simply see robotics as a threat to the job force, one local company put it all together and the Manufacturing Engineering Manager may have said it best, “Investing in technology has been an investment in our people. We are deploying robotic solutions and vision systems into low-level manual operations. That affords us the opportunity to train our lowest skilled employees for higher skilled activities elsewhere in the company. Since our highest turnover of people occurs within our entry level (lowest skill/lowest paid) positions, minimizing the number of these positions we have on each shift is helping to stabilize the vacancies.”
The Engineering Manager at another company in the greater Erie area added this, “we automate to improve job satisfaction, reduce safety risks, and the ever-increasing cost of labor, enabling us to provide a less expensive and better-quality products to our customers. Investing in technology gives us the ability to develop and educate our employees into more technical higher paying roles that help to increase their socioeconomic status and standard of living.”
As a supplier for automation solutions, Neff takes pride in becoming part of a customer’s success story with automation. While it’s our role to provide solutions that help drive more profit to the company, we get deep satisfaction from watching not only the companies become empowered with this technology, but the operators as well. For example, last year a company in the greater Pittsburgh area told us that one of their machine operators, who was made responsible for deploying the robot to complete an operation, enrolled in evening classes in automation. Deploying the robot gave them the confidence to pursue further education that is a win for the individual and the company.
If you change your mindset to where it is not operator against automation but rather an operator empowered with automation, you not only will empower your workforce to seek out solutions to improve your operations, but you will give them the sense of pride in being able to share with their kids, “today I deployed a robot”.
Side Note: NEFF, NWPA-NTMA, and NWIRC are presenting the Manufacturing Advanced Expos on May 3 (Kersey PA) and May 5 (Erie PA). The events will feature demos of the latest technology with over 30 exhibits, education sessions, free lunch, and a poker run. Registration is required. You can download the event flyer with education session schedule and descriptions, and see info about the featured exhibitor sponsors and the link for registration at: www.nwirc.org/events.