When Manufacturing Transformation Meets Resistance, There’s Usually a Good Reason

shutterstock_781767328 1000x666It’s an exciting time to be in the robots-for-manufacturing business. The industrial robot industry is expected to grow about 50% per year over the next several years. That’s a lot of cobots being deployed around the world. There are many reasons why the outlook is so positive, including: rising labor costs, labor shortages, greater flexibility, increased quality and the need to lower job-related repetitive stress injuries and the move to mass personalization – where consumers demand individualized products,

It’s all good and I don’t doubt the potential. In fact, I believe that collaborative automation is the key to transforming manufacturing in many meaningful ways: creating good jobs, strengthening customer loyalty and increasing shareholder value.

At the same time, I – like my manufacturing customers – am a pragmatist. When it comes to embracing change in manufacturing, don’t underestimate the power of motivation. And having been on this side for a while now, I can tell you, I see more motivation to keep things the way they are, in spite of the challenges that presents.

The Devil I Know, I Know How to Handle

For plant managers, there’s nothing more important than keeping manufacturing production up and running. When lines are humming, people are earning wages, raw material inventory is being used to build products, customer orders are being fulfilled – all is right with the world. When something happens to interrupt that flow, plant managers know what to do to get things back on track, quickly.

Introducing a new model is fraught with risk. And more than risk to uptime.

We’re talking about personal risk. The soundtrack might include questions like:

  • I’m being told that the cost will be low, but based on my experience with automation, could it be more?
  • How can I be certain this newly proven technology will meet the unique needs of my operation?
  • What if it breaks down too much?
  • Will I look silly to my peers and employees?
  • How can I get the results in the time frame I need to prove this was the right decision?
  • How will this look from a PR perspective?

These are valid questions, and they have to be addressed. The answers are available and based on more than a decade of proof of the value that cobots bring to manufacturing.

Transformation: Not Easy, but Necessary

Charles Craig may have captured perfectly the mandate we’re seeing shape almost all sectors of business today: “evolve or die.” The call for transformation is everywhere: retail, health care, education, and yes, manufacturing.

In manufacturing, plant managers are critical to making it happen for their organizations – all the strategic initiatives in the world are worthless if these folks dig in their heels to maintain the status quo. What they need is a way to lower the risk of embracing transformation, while gaining greater rewards.

Beyond the Hype, the Help is Real

The innovation that is collaborative robotics can silence the doubting voices and give plant managers a way to ensure that processes are optimized, production streamlined and talent maximized. It’s possible because cobots can

  • easily take on low-value tasks, generating additional capacity and freeing workers to focus on more strategic tasks
  • do highly repetitive work at lower costs, for longer periods of time, with fewer errors
  • work 24/7/365
  • be on the job in often less than a week, sometimes less than a day
  • do a wide range of tasks, including material handling and pick and place; machine tending; quality assurance inspection; and palletizing
  • deliver ROI in under 90 days

Motivation is a powerful force. Plant managers are motivated to keep production lines running and productivity high. Anything that puts those objectives at risk has to be viewed through the lens of skepticism, and rightly so. At the same, the world is moving toward more automation. Those who move with confidence to harness the power of advanced automation will find that there’s a lot of value, even with incremental steps. And once that first step is taken, the potential is quickly realized and the transformation begins.

What motivates you in your journey toward a more automated operation? Have you taken a step or are you waiting for something? What is it? Tweet me @jim_lawton.