Lou Kren Lou Kren
Senior Editor

People Drive the Automation Equation

October 31, 2022


Automation = Efficiency. Reading through the November 2022 issue of MetalForming, you’ll find example after example as evidence for the validity of this equation. Precise servo-drive components, simplified programming and the rise of collaborative robots, or cobots, are among a healthy number of technology developments that have enabled automation to permeate manufacturing shop floors. The numbers bear this out, particularly as to robotic automation.

The North American robotics market in 2022 is off to its best start ever, states a report from the Association for Advancing Automation, as noted in Robots & Cobots: Shop-Floor Applications and ROI. Thus far, 2022 outpaces 2021, which closed as the strongest year ever for North American robot sales. 

Importantly, the manufacturers who seem to benefit most from the increase in automation are those who value people in their automation decisions. Even in lights-out operations, robots and other automation rely on humans for programming, maintenance and other functions, and humans often benefit from inclusion of automation. In short, for successful manufacturers, people and automation form a positive symbiotic relationship.

For example, Omex Manufacturing ULC, Ontario, Canada, has added servomechanical presses to its shop floor to best take advantage of new automotive programs, which we detail in Servomechanical Presses Drive Auto-Part Productivity Gains. Results are impressive, thanks in no small part to a wealth of automation. Transfer systems, heavy-duty feeds and an inground scrap handler serve the servos, with inhouse-designed and -built assembly and wire-welding equipment, along with homegrown additions to robotic welding cells, adding greatly to the Omex productivity push. None of this would be possible without high-quality, experienced and motivated personnel, according to Justin Slawek, Omex plant manager.

“Much of our management team not only has engineering degrees, but also started out on the shop floor,” he tells MetalForming. “This experience and knowhow, along with encouragement for feedback from the plant floor—operators and technicians are on the front line and know the issues—result in a positive culture at Omex that drives innovation.”

Automating repetitive, dangerous or tedious processes frees Omex personnel to learn new skills, put their knowledge to work and innovate. This point has added relevance, as with fewer people in the workforce and skilled personnel at a premium, manufacturers must do what they can to make jobs as appealing as possible to attract and retain talent, or remain productive and profitable enough to keep their existing workers. The automation evolution provides help here in previously unexpected ways. 

“Fortunately, where in the past the math didn’t work, modern automation has become less costly and more flexible, and easier to justify for lower-volume jobs,” explains Todd Wenzel, owner/president of TCR Integrated Stamping Systems, in the article No Choice But to Automate.

At the end of the day, automation and humans must collaborate, backed by investment in both. Says Jim Rose, owner of Fossil Industries, a new Pennsylvania fabricator that relies heavily on automated equipment, in New Sheet and Tube Fabricator Has Lofty Goals,: “(We’re) trying to bring in some talented people and interest them in manufacturing. We are trying to steer people toward a good career in the trades. I want our people to learn everything there is to learn about metal fabrication, learn about being entrepreneurs, and then build shops right across the street and start making their own stuff.”

Industry-Related Terms: Form, Point, Scrap, Transfer
View Glossary of Metalforming Terms

Technologies: Pressroom Automation

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