This morning was like any other. The alarm sounded, kicking off the morning rush – getting ready for work, making coffee, reviewing the family’s schedule for the week, and somehow convincing two littles to get ready for school (everyone knows it takes kids roughly an hour to find and actually get shoes on their feet). A typical morning. But then again, was it? Let’s take another look.
The alarm that started the day automatically sounded via an app on an iPhone, the clothes for work arrived as part of a monthly subscription service that automatically chooses outfits based on preferences, and an Amazon Alexa was tasked with starting the coffee and reminding us of the schedule for the week (she’s practically a member of the Family). The kids’ shoes…well, that was a manual process. Can’t win them all.
Whether we realize it or not, automation impacts our everyday lives by simplifying or eliminating mundane tasks, allowing us to focus our efforts elsewhere. For some people, this means putting a Tesla on autopilot or starting a car from a kitchen window on a chilly day. For others, it means auto-populating their NCAA Bracket based on Vegas odds, community percentages, or historical trends. All terms I didn’t know until recently, but I now understand are better options than choosing between mascot colors to get a leg up in the company office pool.
Automation impacts people at work just as much as it does in their home lives – especially in manufacturing.
The manufacturing industry has gone through multiple revolutions – each one has brought new processes and technologies that have promised to increase efficiencies, production output, and overall profitability. The fourth industrial revolution promises no less. Artificial intelligence, robotics, cutting-edge machinery, and the rise of intelligent automation drives these same improvements on the shop floor, creating a competitive edge.
Manufacturers are aware of these opportunities and are moving quickly to implement the technologies that afford them. In fact, more than a third in the manufacturing and high-tech sector reported their organization’s first priority for automation is to automate processes. Mainly to increase productivity (66 percent), minimize manual errors (61 percent), reduce costs (59 percent) and refocus people’s efforts on non-repetitive tasks that benefit from human intervention (50 percent).1
While most emerging technologies help deliver increased operational performance via processes on the shop floor, automation is uniquely positioned to positively impact the workforce. How?
Automating processes can enable manufacturers to improve overall performance and productivity by reducing errors, increasing speed, and streamlining workflows. A report by McKinsey estimates that automation could raise productivity growth globally by 0.8 to 1.4 percent annually.2
It’s well documented that a highly engaged workforce is more productive, but how does that increase in productivity affect the employee? In short, it increases morale through the value an employee contributes. Incoming generations aren’t just looking for a paycheck, they want to make an impact at work. Automating processes that allow employees to focus on more thoughtful work assists them with achieving better results by increasing engagement and overall performance. This also aids the manufacturer in attracting and retaining talent, a crucial consideration given the skills gap.
Improved Workplace Safety
Heavy equipment, fast-moving machines, and dangerous processes and tasks are common on plant floors. Along with these conditions come risks to workers, who historically carried out whatever job needed to be done. In 2018 alone, more than 115,000 manufacturing workers missed workdays due to injuries.3 Today, automation in the form of robots and cobots can be deployed where it’s needed most, mitigating the risk of injury for employees and creating a safer work environment.
In addition to physical workspace safety, manufacturers must also take worker fatigue into close consideration. Scheduling practices play a huge role in worker safety by enhancing visibility into rest time and hours worked, ensuring employees get enough time off before starting a new shift.
Creation of New, Higher Skilled Jobs
Fears of technology and job automation are prevalent. Americans are especially concerned with this, and are roughly twice as likely to express worry (72%) than enthusiasm (33%) about a future in which robots and computers are capable of doing many jobs that are currently done by humans.4 This fear is misguided, as the numbers tell another story. In 2018, manufacturing jobs grew at the fastest pace since 1995, adding 327,000 jobs, the most during any 12-month period since April of that year when 345,000 jobs were added.5
We know that the number of jobs available is increasing, but how is automation changing the type of jobs available and what does that mean for employees filling them? Manufacturing processes often involve many manual, repetitive tasks that can be monotonous for employees, decreasing their engagement on the job. Automation of these tasks frees up employees’ time to focus on more strategic work. These higher skilled jobs are more engaging, elevating employee satisfaction and performance.
Automation can positively impact the workforce, whether it’s by feeling more valued on the job, working in a safer environment, or having the opportunity to contribute to more strategic work. It’s up to manufacturers to implement automation with these considerations in mind, as they present an opportunity to create a more engaged, empowered, and thus productive workforce.