Automation technologies within reach for smaller manufacturers, improving the industry as a whole

As automation technology improves and prices are reduced, there are many more opportunities for smaller manufacturers to include robots and other automation technologies into their facilities, creating safer, more productive work environments for their employees.

Robotics and automation technologies installed at small manufacturing operations are assisting employees in completing what we call the “dirty, dangerous, and dull” jobs. Instead of an employee completing a mundane or unsafe task all day, that same employee could be trained to operate automation equipment that can do that task in a safer environment. This leads to many benefits to the employee and employer, including higher job satisfaction.

In addition to employee benefits, automating can mean the difference between staying competitive and going out of business.

The main driver is the need to compete, often on a global basis. Can certain tasks be automated in order to improve productivity and product quality? Can overall manufacturing costs be lowered by automating? Can the company respond to changing demands more quickly if they automate? Can the company find new customers if they automate (because they are now producing more products faster and with greater quality)? Have our competitors automated in order to gain an advantage? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, automation is likely to be considered.

If a firm that is not automating is losing business because of competitive pressures, then they risk going out of business. Marlin Steel in Baltimore is a great example of this. They used to bend wire baskets by hand, producing about 300 a day. Once they automated, they were producing thousands a day with higher quality and no injuries to employees. This allowed them to remain competitive, win new business, and ultimately add more and better (higher-paying and safer) jobs. Marlin is a great example of increased productivity and profitability through automation.

However, there are still those out there that believe that automating factories can, and will, replace employees completely in an effort to be the most efficient, productive, and competitive. The Association for Advancing Automation has a different take on automation’s effect on employment.

Overall, we believe automation has a positive impact on employment. The real threat to jobs is when a company is no longer competitive. In that case, the options are (a) go out of business, in which case all the jobs are lost; (b) outsource the jobs to another country; or (c) automate, in which case jobs are saved and the opportunity for growth exists. Of course, I’m just talking about the jobs inside a factory or business. When you include the jobs outside a factory, automation that helps keep a plant open also is helping keep open restaurants, gas stations, bowling alleys, and many companies that supply the factory – an entire ecosystem of jobs that might otherwise be lost.

Overall, it seems that through factory automation the manufacturing industry can create a more diverse industry landscape and continue growing.


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