Quality control, improved efficiency, and increased throughput are all good reasons for companies to automate their processes. Look at MJ Engineering’s Oral Syringe Filling Machine, for example. Automation takes over repetitive, mundane, or dangerous tasks (thereby increasing precision and consistency), while freeing its human counterparts to do safer or more fulfilling jobs.
Perhaps you have been considering bringing more automation—robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), or autonomous processes—into your manufacturing production, but you are finding resistance with your employees. Or maybe you’ve seen the recent statistics of robotics in the workplace, the typical rant being something about robots replacing good workers. And, depending on whom you talk to, you’ll find advocates for both sides of this conversation.
What do we, as automation experts, think? That doomsaying needs to stop.
Automation is ambivalent
The first thing to remember when dealing with any automated process is that it does not think for itself—yet. Therefore, the AI you might be adding to machines in your production processes to “think” like a human or even mimic human actions can only do what it has been programmed to do by a human. And most manufacturers have no interest in programming an uprising. The point is that automation isn’t an evil waiting to be unleashed on our economy; it’s a tool just like any other in getting things made and inspected more efficiently.
“Robotic integration is not about reducing head count; it’s about repurposing your head count,” says MJ Engineering President Richard Wand. “And being able to produce more with the same number of people.”
Often, as is the case with many of our customers, robots and automation are a welcome addition to a weary and beleaguered team. In fact, once it is up-and-running, employees often rave about the enhancements brought about by automation. Fears of job loss or technological overthrow are long gone within the first few weeks of installation.
On the website “Save Your Factory,” MJ Engineering robotics supplier FANUC discusses how robots allow businesses to remain competitive without offshoring.
The truth about automation is in the potential
Since the Industrial Revolution began more than 250 years ago, we have been putting tools to work for us in assembly processes—and we’ve come a long way since the Luddites destroyed machinery in the textile industry that they believed was threatening their jobs. These days, the term “Luddite” is used to describe anyone who is opposed to increased industrialization or new technology—and it is typically not a compliment.
Despite all of the technological advances since the first Industrial Revolution, more people are working than ever before. Assembly lines have become more efficient and more automated. Just think injection machines, CNC routers, and even conveyor belts, at their core, are all automated systems. And what have those automations brought us? The Industrial Age, mass manufacturing, and nearly everything you use every day. But, most importantly, it has brought us to a greater level of potential than ever before in human history. Automation enhances human potential.
The way this plays out on an assembly line, for instance, is best represented by automation working side-by-side with humans. The robot or automation handles the processes it is best suited for, and the person does the rest. This system takes physical strain off the worker while enabling that worker to handle the process they are given with more focus, maximizing their potential for output.
The future is now
Another advantage of adding automation to your manufacturing process, which you might not have considered, is that of hiring more specialized staff. If anything, adding a robot will increase the number of higher-level jobs within your company. Robot mechanics, automation experts, and CNC programmers are some of the positions for which you will likely be hiring, once your automation has been installed.
This idea may seem daunting now, but keep in mind the metrics of adding automation. Precision, quality, efficiency, output quantities, safety, and order fulfillment (all profitable elements of your business) increase almost exponentially with the appropriate addition of automation—which brings us to the caveat.
Robots are brutally honest
Just because robots will make your production line faster, better, and safer, while adding higher-level jobs and freeing up employees to do other work, it does not mean you should just slap any old robot onto your line. A thoughtful, intentional evaluation of your process is absolutely necessary before adding automation. And MJ Engineering is the perfect partner to help you create a system or line that incorporates robotics and automation. If the right machine does not already exist, MJ Engineering can custom-design it to suit your company’s needs.
The reason you need to put time and thought into your automation is two-fold: first and most obviously, it costs money to set up automation. It’s an investment you will see repaid in dividends, but a hefty sum nonetheless. Second, whatever problems you have in your current process—no matter where in relation to the automation they exist—can be exacerbated by adding automation. So, you want to get it right. In fact, if you struggle with your internal process, robotics can help because they expose weaknesses in your upstream process. Robotics perform the same exact action over and over again, so any variance will stand out.
This is a good thing when dealing with manufacturing. And it makes sense, because robots enhance potential. No other investment will give you the guaranteed results time and time again as adding automation. But you will want to think of how to integrate the automation as an augmentation of the process and people you currently have—not as a replacement. Only then will your addition be met with enthusiasm from everyone in your company, and your robots will automatically be welcomed with open arms.