Future State of Manufacturing

As our population increases land will become more valuable, forcing manufacturers to practice Lean in order to reduce their operating expense. One major challenge in Lean is that automation is not designed for the changeovers that come with JIT scheduling. This means much of the labor still needs to be done by people. In 2015, the manufacturing industry in the USA alone had 600,000+ unfulfilled jobs, despite having nearly 8 million people unemployed.

This is a current problem, and will continue to grow if the skilled labor deficit issue isn’t addressed. Robot manufacturers are aware of this, and have been attempting to make A.I. platforms and rapid teach pads to reduce changeover time. Some are even making their robots have personalities to help blend into the workforce. Robots are a great way to make people more efficient, but they still require a human’s involvement. This interaction requires knowledge.

Manufacturing is a very competitive industry. Companies all over the world are continuously working to improve their tactics to shave seconds off their labor. We as consumers demand it. Introducing a fleet of robots is a scary investment when your margins are already tight. In order to take such a risk one must be extremely confident that there will be a return on the investment. The only way to know this is to have accurate data.

The alternative to investing in robots is to focus on the automation of current technology and equipment, as well as processes and tasks traditionally done by support staff. Imagine a workbench opening and closing drawers, handing the operator tools like a surgeon’s assistant, the machinery turning on/off to conserve electricity, or autonomous carts that supply needed material and drive away when loaded. We have the technology to do all of this, but there is one element missing: knowing when each action is to be triggered.