IMTS Insider

Robots Help Manufacturers Attract and Retain Skilled Workers

Category: Manufacturing Technology Nov 3, 2020


By Chuck Schroeder, IMTS Media Representative/Owner – Insight Marketing

For years, the lack of qualified labor has been the number one challenge facing manufacturers. Skilled workers have their pick of available jobs in the industry, often making wages the deciding factor in choosing a job, but work environment and culture are playing an increasing role.  The best way for a company to retain and attract good employees is not only paying a competitive rate, but to set itself apart as a better employer.

It may sound counterintuitive, but robots are key contributors in fostering a better workplace for industrial employees.

“Incorporating robotic automation on the shop floor helps improve conditions for workers, provides a more satisfying work experience, and creates a growth environment where everyone benefits,” said Mark Sumner, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Acieta, a leading robotic system integrator in Waukesha, Wis., and Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Dangerous and stressful tasks often fatigue workers as the day goes on, so robots are well suited to take on those tasks.

Better Work Conditions
Employees thrive when their work is stimulating and safe. Employers can maintain that positive environment by tapping robots for the most repetitive and strenuous tasks (which are often the positions hardest to keep filled). Doing so can reduce or eliminate an individual’s physical stress, fatigue, and potential for injury.

From there, employers can pivot their workforce to focus on more high-skill tasks–the kind that employees find more engaging, thought provoking, and fulfilling. In return, companies can expect improved employee outlook, less employee turnover/retraining, fewer injuries, and less on-the-job fatigue, which produces more consistent employee output.

Manufacturers have several job duties that present a hazard to the employee or require an excess of unstimulating responsibilities: heavy lifting, repetitive stocking/restocking, installing and removing parts, use of harmful materials, or close interaction with highly flammable materials–not to mention the psychological toll of working regularly in a hazardous environment which leads to further negativity felt by an employee towards his job duties.

Case Study: Robots Eliminate Turnover for OEM
In a community where unemployment was less than 3%, a material handling OEM added robots to make its employees’ jobs safer, easier, and less exhausting. Acieta worked with the OEM to install several FANUC robots for lasering, welding, and tending press brakes. The company has experienced zero employee turnover since because the robots give workers a better experience in several ways:

  • Saving footsteps: Robots reduced the work area footprint by 80%. With a more compact work area, employees travel less around the facility.
  • Less forklift traffic: Work areas are safer because forklifts don’t travel as far nor as long.
  • Fewer injuries: Some parts weigh 400 to 600 pounds. Robots handle these pieces and eliminate the burden of manual lifting.
  • Using worker skills: Workers previously doing mundane and dangerous tasks were reallocated to areas of the plant where they could build on their skill sets and have more rewarding jobs.

In fact, as a result of higher throughput, the company has grown the department, hired more workers and added a shift.

“A worker that leaves the shop exhausted and dirty every day is more likely to be unhappy and frustrated,” Sumner said. “A robot can do the repetitive, uncomfortable, and dangerous tasks so a human is not put into those situations.”

Rewarding Work
A happy worker is more likely to be a loyal employee. Reassigning an operator from a monotonous, unskilled task to a job that challenges her/his skills is more rewarding and engaging, thus making that person feel more valued and more likely to take an active interest in the company’s success.

Having a robot in the shop shows job candidates and current employees that the company is forward thinking and planning for the future.

“Skilled operators can be moved to more challenging jobs like robot setup and programming, quality control, or assisting in parts design,” Sumner said. “These jobs naturally require higher skillsets and give employees a chance at a better paying job.”

An operator’s time can now be used to manage multiple robots and lines simultaneously, which increases productivity and demonstrates satisfying results. By taking a human off mind-numbing jobs and moving to advanced and engaging tasks, companies see lower turnover and higher morale.

Stability and Growth
Workers are more likely to choose employers that are stable and have long-term growth potential. Having a robot in the shop shows job candidates and current employees that the company is forward thinking and planning for the future.

“Job security is number one,” Sumner said. “There will always be more opportunities with a growing company, so it becomes a better bet to stay with that employer.”

With robots on the line, production and capacity increase, so companies can take on more work and new customers. As a result, growing companies need more skilled workers to handle the higher volume.

A robot has no problem doing the jobs no human wants to do, so people have more opportunities and job satisfaction at a company that looks promising for years to come.

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