Multiple challenges can be overcome with the implementation of automation. Probably, the biggest problem that businesses are looking to solve at the moment is labor. Obviously, by introducing automation to manufacturing processes, the need for labor, especially for redundant labor-intensive tasks, can be significantly reduced. However, the benefits of automation go further than labor. Automation can bring significant improvements to quality, product consistency, and efficiency, not to mention workforce morale and safety which can reduce workplace injuries and insurance costs, as well as improving the overall quality of the workplace experience.
The best way to stay agile in today’s every changing marketplace is to look for adjustability and adaptability when introducing new systems. Robotics, for example, can be easily retooled and modified to serve different purposes when manufacturing needs change. But, these factors are also good to take into consideration when looking at more traditional pallet handling automation like stacking systems. For example, some stackers can easily be changed to accommodate different production needs, like pallet sizes, stack heights, etc.
Many types of automation have been around for years in pallet manufacturing and recycling. But, speaking of robotics specifically, they are certainly a relatively new addition. For example, the use of robotics in tasks like material handling, pallet sorting, and pallet dismantling seems to be taking off as robotics provide significant improvements in safety and change the available workforce by changing the way the operator interacts with the manufacturing process. However, more and more folks are also deciding to go with other automation, like stacking systems, due to their ability to keep up with higher production demands. Regarding the “recent influx” in automation, there are a few possible contributors that come to mind. The labor market, for example, is extremely tight today, whereas, in years past, labor may have been more readily available in some markets. Also, the rise in insurance costs as well as legislation which puts more demand on business owners is a likely contributor. Furthermore, the simple fact that automation is a major capital investment can lead some folks to dismiss the idea. However, more and more pallet manufacturers and recyclers are automating and realizing the savings at an increasing rate. The more we’re able to help people understand what automation can do as well as the quick ROI that they can realize, they soon see that, in the grand scheme of things, they can’t afford not to automate.
The role I see for NWPCA around automation involves three specific areas: communication, networking, and education. In my opinion, all of these are strengths of the association which can be strategically geared toward the issue of automation.
NWPCA can advance the discussion, provide information of use to members. However, to add some more in-depth suggestions, the association could look at collecting data on industry trends specific to automation and report those trends through articles and so on. Also, more articles and stories demonstrating real world applications would allow folks in the industry to conceptualize the short term and long-term benefits of automation in a relevant way.