You Still Be in Business 10 Years From Now?
The answer may depend on your automation strategy.
an opinion piece by Dan McClenathen, President, Advanced
labor shortage … a manufacturing dilemma
The economy is beginning to come back but will you be
able to find enough people to staff your factories and
machine lines in the future? Are you thinking about
five to ten years from now? If so, the picture
is not very rosy. By the year 2007, the big bubble
of ‘‘Baby Boomers’‘ will begin to retire. ‘‘Baby Boomers’‘
comprise the largest demographic group in the U.S. today.
problem is already beginning to raise its ugly head.
I am aware of some manufacturing companies in northeast
Indiana that are suffering from such a labor shortage
that they actually have picnics on the factory front
lawn. They invite anyone they can to come to the
picnic. After the people are finished eating,
they are invited to tour the facility. At the
end of the tour, they are asked to complete an application.
the fact that most of today’s younger people do not
want to work in a factory. They do not want to
work on an assembly line or feed parts into a machine
that entails getting their hands dirty. They want
to work in offices or on computers; much different from
the previous generations who built this country into
the industrial giant that it is today.
When considering a career choice, people external to
manufacturing think of the bad factory working conditions.
Many of today’s factories may be brightly lit, clean
and filled with a mix of digital manufacturing technology,
but this message has not been communicated to the public.
Most parents, kids, and educators today think of manufacturing
as dingy, dark, dangerous, and dead end.
… can the government help solve labor issues?
The economy of this country depends largely upon manufacturing
right here in the good old USA. Even our government
has recognized that there is a future labor shortage.
They have removed the cap on how much a retiree can
now earn and still collect their Social Security.
This was unheard of 10 years ago. But, is that
enough? Can the government respond to a problem
of needing more people to work in factories? Will
they grasp the seriousness of this problem? A
failing manufacturing industry will touch all people
and all parts of our society.
World War II, manufacturers were the main employers.
However, in the last few decades, they have suffered
from overseas competition and a shortage of skilled
workers. Manufacturing has become less attractive than
it was in the past. I have heard it said that
manufacturing, as we know it today, is ‘‘one generation
from extinction’‘. Either we prepare for the future
labor shortage or we will not be in business.
companies are thinking about going overseas to attract
help. Please consider the language barrier; communication
is important. Things can change very quickly on
a shop floor. Most ‘‘on the fly’‘ changes are
handled verbally. Those that have tried foreign
hiring plans have not had much success. They have
spent a lot of money but have little to show for their
efforts in the end.
Machines has recently begun to integrate robots into
machining cells for one of its customers that is bringing
production back from Mexico. It seems cheap labor
comes with many business, quality, and logistical problems.
And, after one year, how much does a robot really cost?
should we be looking for solutions … think systems integrators.
We must take charge of our own destiny. System
integrators are the new white knights capable of saving
our manufacturing base. We are standing on the
edge of a forced transition to a robot-manufacturing
arena. Any company that chooses to ignore the
signs to heavily introduce robots into their plants
to cover for the future labor shortage may go out of
business. Are you able to see the need for the
future robot evolution and plan for it before the labor
shortage becomes a crisis?
do not go on vacation, take lunch hours, complain, get
overtime pay, quit, need 401-K programs, health, life
or disability insurance, unemployment compensation,
social security, or present any of those human resource
related issues. The average robot costs as much
as one person does for a year. However, after
the second year, the cost decreases dramatically.
Robots can run for many years with little maintenance.
am aware of a Tier One Automotive parts manufacturer
that recently received an order to build parts because
another supplier could not keep up with the demand that
the manufacturer required. It seems this other
supplier built a new small plant to manufacture automotive
parts but, when the factory was completed, not enough
people could be found that were willing to work.
We designed and integrated a full line of machines and
robots so our customer could build the parts without
any operators on the line. People bring raw parts to
the line and other people take finished parts, already
packaged, from the line.
out manufacturing … what does it mean?
Machines do not need lights to manufacture parts like
humans do. ‘‘Lights out manufacturing’‘ is an
old term that in the past had a lot of hype and questionable
results. Those that did a good job integrating
this concept into their shops today swear by it.
Those that merely went through the motions will swear
have been a part of programs where a Fortune 500 company
literally sectioned off its shop floor into quarter
sections. One section at a time was converted
to ‘‘lights out manufacturing’‘. There were approximately
320 employees on the floor before the integration to
CNC machines and robots. When completed, there
were hundreds fewer employees required. They planned
well and executed well.
I have also been a part of programs where the companies
treated ‘‘lights out manufacturing’‘ more as the latest
fad, i.e. everyone else is doing it so why don’t we
try. The results were poor and, of course,
they blamed it on the concept. ‘‘We tried it and
it just doesn’t work’‘.
the ‘‘lights out manufacturing’‘ practice to save us
in the future, we must approach it with the goal of
doing as much as possible without any labor. Manbir
Sodhi, a professor of industrial and manufacturing engineering
at the University of Rhode Island, Kingston, claims
economics, labor shortages, and improved technology
will help drive ‘‘lights out manufacturing’‘ growth.
we have better technology and better skilled integrators
to see that what we start can be done. Some companies
are starting by converting over one section of the plant,
or one shift, to ‘‘lights out manufacturing’‘.
They know the future is coming but may not have the
capital to totally build a new facility dedicated to
‘‘lights out manufacturing’‘.
robots right for you?
As with many business strategy decisions, this is a
big decision that in the end must be made by you alone.
But in making that decision, consider the benefits of
using robots. Robots do not get bored or concerned
about working conditions. In fact, over time,
robots can perform many tasks more efficiently than
people. Additionally, they do not get sick or
need to rest. Consider those tasks that are dangerous
with too much heat or fumes from welding. While this
environment may be hostile to humans, robots never complain.
can, among other things
dangerous or heavy materials,
chemicals or paints,
finished parts, and
or polish parts.
dream it up and let an experienced integrator show you
how it can be done with a robot.
integration right for you?
James B. Swartz wrote in The Hunter and the
Hunted, ‘‘Our competitive environment changes
rapidly. If you want to survive, you have to stay
on top of changes. Otherwise, you will become
the prey to your competitors. Hunters continuously
change and learn; anyone who doesn’t becomes the hunted
and sooner or later will be devoured.’‘
addition to the future labor shortage, let us also look
at ‘‘Robot Return on Investment’‘ (ROI): First
of course you need the Capital Investment to have the
integration in place and running then can consider:
increases in unit output
Savings including legal claims brought against you
savings of changeovers – manually, it can take hours
whereas automatically, it can take minutes
savings i.e., less 8D type of work may be required
to protect your customer
has the potential to lower costs, improve quality and
timing responsiveness, and tighten the supply chain
in and out of your facility.
selecting a system integrator, consider the following:
kind of relationship do you want? This is really
a company that understands and has experience in your
their company understand the application you want?
the integrator propose the solutions. Then you
choose which is best for you.
they have the skills and resources needed to execute
they large or small enough to complete the project
on time and efficiently?
references. How did they perform for others?
about technical support? Will they be available
after the project to help if any snags arise?
is very important.
they have simulation capabilities
? Can they actually show how the integration
design will work before they build it?
This is another advantage of integrating human to machine
to machine to human systems. Vision systems are a major
quality control tool. Vision systems can inspect
location and orientation
Character Recognition and verification
systems can then export the gathered data to an Excel
spreadsheet, enabling automatic Statistical Process
Control (SPC). Every step of a manufacturing
process can be validated.
Countries that have a strong manufacturing base prosper.
If we are to continue to be a leader in manufacturing,
we must prepare for the shortage of good industrial
employees when the ‘‘Baby Boomers’‘ begin to retire.
Advanced Machines, Inc. believes the best way to prepare
for the future labor shortage is through new system
integration methods. Start today by contacting
a system integrator company that knows which robotic
improvements can help you stay in business 10 years
from now. And, remember to ask them to show you
a total machine line simulation of
how your line will actually function before it is built.