How AMRs free up hands and minds for higher value jobs
There is nothing new in the fear that new technology will take human jobs. And with autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) it’s true – and it’s not true. AMRs can indeed take over many of the tedious and manual tasks in manufacturing. But, as with all technological advances, we need to look at how and where the technology is deployed.
Looking back, lots of technological inventions have improved businesses in ways that don’t leave us longing for the good old days. Just think of electrical tools in general, a computer or the software that collects crucial data. The list goes on.
But autonomous mobile robots don’t just offer value to businesses by improving efficiency and productivity, they also improve conditions for workers. By taking on the dull and dangerous tasks related to manual labor, mobile robots actually create a safer, more fulfilling workplace.
What’s more, a report from the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) found a collection of studies that showed technological advances in the workplace have actually helped create job opportunities. This is a combination of new roles related to the technology, and increased production demands as a result of an improved offering.
This was the case at Finnish Stera Technologies, the providers of contract manufacturing services to a wide range of industries worldwide. Stera optimized its internal transportation by deploying a MiR500 robot, leaving truck drivers free to focus on more complex tasks. But while Stera has invested in new automation equipment, this did not result in a reduction of the workforce. In fact, quite the reverse occurred.
“Of course our workforce has been worried about their position in the factory but we have been able to locate more tasks for them, and actually we have been able to grow the workforce number during that last three years where we have automated many processes.” said Jari Isatolo, Business Director at Stera Turku. Therefore, it’s negative headlines that could threaten to overshadow the very real, positive contribution of automation and robotics to productivity, competitiveness and job creation.
Human workers can benefit tremendously from robotic help and with the MiR robots’ world class safety features there really isn’t a reason why AMRs and humans shouldn’t work harmoniously together. A key to acceptance is open communication with employees about what tasks the robots will take on, and what tasks they will not. Consider investing in the training and upskilling of your employees who can take on more challenging opportunities than laboriously moving stuff from A to B.
Plan for the change
Honeywell Analytics in Poole, UK, is a manufacturer focusing on lean production. A MiR robot was implemented to push carts, a task previously undergone by humans. Design Engineer Timothy Ward explains the considerations they made about the human workforce when AMRs were implemented.
“We wanted staff to get back onto the production line and drive efficiency. By bringing the MiR robots on-site, we freed up six full-time staff members to produce more, and make the line more efficient.” Freeing employees from low-value material-transportation tasks also supports other lean manufacturing goals, including the ability to have multi-skilled staff who can work on a variety of production lines as needed.
“We like to have staff that can be multi-trained and multi-skilled so they can work in different parts of the business and help level-load the product,” Ward said.
Share the benefits
In fact highlighting the advantages on an ongoing basis is integral to establishing a culture which embraces automated technology. Transparency and training of staff is crucial to acceptance. But so is sharing some of the obvious benefits of AMRs:
- Injury reduction
- Safer workplace
- Higher productivity
- Quality improvement