- Automation technologies such as CNC machining, 3D printing, and AI are allowing humans to work in tandem with machines for more precise and reliable results.
- Automation can help improve work conditions in high-turnover industries, allowing workers to focus on more rewarding roles.
- Leveraging automation allows businesses to scale up without having to hire and train new workers.
Automation is on every industry leader’s mind today. And many businesses have an opportunity to harness the full value of robotics, artificial intelligence (AI) and other automation technologies.
As the automation market continues to expand and advance, solutions are becoming more accessible to businesses of all sizes—large and small. Now, you can buy or rent turnkey automated solutions and effectively multiply your workforce overnight.
Whether it’s reducing workplace accidents, increasing productivity or helping companies cope with labor shortages, here are some ways automation can strengthen your workforce and accelerate your success.
AUGMENTING EMPLOYEES’ CAPABILITIES
While machines and humans have worked together for centuries, the demand for precision and speed is making automation more important than ever—especially where manufacturing is concerned.
Technologies like CNC machining and 3D printing have helped fuel this need for accuracy in manufacturing. They also represent a clear trend toward increasing human-machine integration (a market projected to hit $10.7 billion dollars by 2032). While humans design and execute plans, easily programmable automated tools—such as Acieta’s FastLOAD CR2000 collaborative machine loading cell—can complement their critical thinking skills with unrivaled precision and reliability.
Beyond manufacturing, the latest developments in automation and AI mean machines can assist employees with tasks that, until recently, seemed impossible to automate. In the food and beverage industry, robots can now pack differently-shaped pieces of chicken for grocery stores—something that only humans could do a few years ago. Then there’s medicine: robots are assisting surgical teams with increasingly complex operations, while software rapidly scans medical imagery to find cancers.
Moreover, thanks to sophisticated machine vision and AI, autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are becoming so independent that a handful of employees can direct small fleets of them. They’re increasingly capable of handling complex, heavy-duty tasks.
Just look at AMR applications in the aerospace industry. From making extremely complex parts to painting and coating those parts with hazardous materials, AMRs can support employees through every step of the manufacturing process.
HIGH TURNOVER JOBS
In warehousing, retail and other industries with higher turnover rates, automation can help improve work conditions and overall enjoyment. By taking on the more dull, dirty and dangerous tasks, automation allows humans to focus on more rewarding roles that can lead to employee growth and pay raises.
Remember, your workforce and automation aren’t competing with one another when it comes to positions. Evaluate how the two can work together to optimize productivity and morale. For example, swarm robots are changing the construction industry with their ability to adapt to a myriad of tasks. These robots can handle repetitive jobs like bricklaying to dangerous ones like high-rise and demolition work—giving workers some much-needed rest.
Better yet, the fact that robotic automation is available to do the heavy lifting means that many workers can finally have an opportunity to rise in the ranks while drones take care of the daily grind. When employees no longer have to worry about the possibility of forklift accidents, they can focus on acquiring new skills and finding more fulfillment in their work.
SCALING UP HAS NEVER BEEN EASIER
Labor costs are high—and workers are in short supply. In an environment where companies fiercely compete for every employee, it’s tough for businesses to scale up operations. Even the most dedicated workforce can only do so much without increasing staff. Fortunately, automated solutions make it possible to scale up companies without hiring and training new workers.
Building upon their existing crew of skilled workers, companies using automation can ramp up their productivity almost overnight. And making the leap doesn’t have to require the level of investment it once did either, thanks to the flexibility of modern automation systems.
For example, ABB's collaborative robotic arm can be leveraged in industries from food processing to bolt manufacturing. Plus, solutions like Robots-as-a-Service (RaaS) lower the barrier of entry significantly. Just consider how quickly Delphon, an adhesive and polymer manufacturer, was able to automate its traditional processes. Thanks to RaaS provider Rapid Robotics, what could have taken months happened in less than a week.
SMARTER WORKFORCE MANAGEMENT
Strengthening a workforce isn’t simply an issue of installing more automation solutions, though. One of automation’s most successful applications involves using AI to power smart workforce management decisions.
Automating HR departments will streamline basic administrative tasks—such as payroll and attendance management—that are needed to keep a business going and employees motivated. AI-powered scheduling, for example, schedules workers based on factors ranging from labor budget to employee preferences. Any schedule edits are tracked so the software can do a better job next time. As a result, managers and employees alike can spend less time working out shifts and more time interacting with customers.
On the shop floor, automated systems give supervisors a wealth of actionable data. Imagine knowing a warehouse picker’s picking rate, how quickly each component of a task takes or even where a product is in the production line. Automation can provide these insights on both a machine and a worker’s performance, so you know where and how to optimize.
AUTOMATING IS EASIER THAN IT SEEMS
While not a cure-all, automation offers tried-and-true (and rigorously tested) tools that can optimize many processes. But it’s not always something a business can implement overnight—and you need buy-in from your workers to leverage these solutions effectively. That’s why the best way of approaching automation is to include your workers in the decision-making process.
Start by explaining why you’re considering adopting automated solutions. Recount tangible ways they can accelerate the business—like how predictive maintenance eliminates the annoyance of unplanned downtime. As you list these benefits, get their opinions, discuss where pain points are in current processes and see where there is room for improvement.
This can give you a better picture of how to optimize and set your company up for more sustainable growth. The result: a smooth transition to a more automated environment—with a stronger workforce that’s happy to be there.
Ready to take the next step in strengthening your workforce? See all the ways automation can help—from robotics to machine vision, to motion control and AI—at the Automate Show in Chicago, IL, May 6–9, 2024.
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