Easing Worker Shortages with Automation

MARCH 13, 2022
We used to ask whether robots will take over the jobs of humans. But that’s not quite the right question in 2022, as finding workers to fill the large number of jobs currently open in manufacturing is almost impossible. “There aren’t enough workers,” says a 3M exec. “And it’s not just large factories with low mix and high volume that are seeing this, it’s also medium-sized and small companies. Everyone is looking to automation to bridge the worker shortage.”

Operations managers are getting the message and in 2021, factories and other industrial users ordered 39,708 robots (valued at over $2 billion), a 28% increase from 2020. While robots have been in auto plants for a long time, orders from non-automotive companies now represent 58% of the North American totals.

A breakdown of industry orders is as follows:

  • Food and Consumer Goods:  up 29%
  • Semiconductors and Electronics/Photonics: up 2%
  • Plastics and Rubber: up 4%
  • Life Sciences/Pharma/Biomed: up 4%
  • All Other Industries:  up 65%

“There is a process we use to engage the operators and manufacturing employees to get them ready for automation,” says 3M. “It’s never about a 1-1 replacement of a worker.  We explain that if someone was doing a certain job and now the robot will do the job, the employee can learn how to operate them and troubleshoot them. This leads to a higher pay grade. It can be a real win-win situation.”

The skills of the workforce have been changing over the past few years, reports Industry Week (March 10, 2022). Manufacturing has tended to pay higher wages than the service sector and is seeing an increasing portion of operators having either associate degrees, technical degrees, or even bachelors degrees. The upskilling of talent was underscored by a 2021 study from the World Economic Forum that predicted that automation would result in an increase of 58 million jobs. And two-thirds of the jobs transformed by automation will become higher-skilled.

These differing degrees of education are going to be essential as U.S. manufacturing will grow. Given the recent supply chain problems, we will see an increase of more companies producing products in the U.S. and automation will play a key role. So it’s an important tool for companies. Contrary to the belief that automation is taking jobs away, it’s automation that will keep companies competitive, and stay in business and protect jobs.

This post provided courtesy of Jay and Barry’s OM Blog at www.heizerrenderom.wordpress.comProfessors Jay Heizer and Barry Render are authors of Operations Management , the world’s top selling textbook in its field, published by Pearson.

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