Robots decide up extra work at busy factories

Orders for office robots within the US elevated by a report 40% in the course of the first quarter in contrast with the identical interval in 2021, in accordance with the Affiliation for Advancing Automation, the robotics trade’s commerce group. Robotic orders, price $1.6 billion, climbed 22% in 2021, following years of stagant or reducing order volumes, the group stated.

Rising wages and employee shortages, compounded by will increase in Covid-19-related absenteeism, are altering some producers’ attitudes about robotics, executives stated. “Earlier than, you might throw individuals at an issue as an alternative of discovering a extra elegant answer,” stated Joe Montano, chief government officer of Delphon Industries LLC, a maker of packaging for semiconductors, medical units and aerospace elements.

Delphon, based mostly in Hayward, Calif., misplaced 40% of its manufacturing days throughout January when the coronavirus unfold by its workforce. The disruption accelerated the corporate’s buy of three extra robots earlier this 12 months, Mr. Montano stated.

Producers within the US, the place employees sometimes have been plentiful and secure wages, have been slower to embrace robotics than these in another industrialized nations. The variety of robots deployed within the US per 10,000 employees has historically trailed nations reminiscent of South Korea, Japan and Germany, in accordance with the Worldwide Federation of Robotics.

The usage of industrial robots in North America for years had been concentrated within the automotive repetitive trade, the place robots took on duties reminiscent of welding on meeting strains. Whereas auto makers and producers of auto elements accounted for 71% of robotic orders in 2016, their share declined to 42% in 2021, the automation affiliation stated. In the meantime, robots made inroads into different sectors together with meals manufacturing, shopper merchandise and prescription drugs. Executives stated improved capabilities are permitting robots to be programmed for more-complex duties requiring a combination of energy and nimbleness.

At Athena Manufacturing LP, a fabricating and machining firm for metallic gear used within the semiconductor, vitality and aerospace industries, Chief Monetary Officer John Newman stated prospects have been ramping up orders, however Athena has struggled to search out sufficient employees to employees a second weekday shift and a weekend shift.

The Austin, Texas, firm bought seven robots prior to now 18 months, together with one which grinds down the welds on metal frames for holding semiconductor gear. Mr. Newman stated Athena has spent greater than $800,000 on robots, together with about $225,000 for the grinding robotic alone. The investments aimed to extend Athena’s capability to deal with orders, he stated, greater than reducing prices.

Grinding the welds on a rack sometimes took an worker about three hours to finish, however the robotic is now capable of do it in half-hour, he stated.

Mr. Newman stated the robotic can apply extra drive with a grinding software than a human can, lowering the period of time wanted to create a easy welded joint. “The robotic does not cease to relaxation, and that is comprehensible for a human as a result of it is a onerous job,” he stated.

Buying the grinding robotic took Athena about 4 years of analysis and engineering, Mr. Newman stated, together with assist from 3M Co., which provides the abrasive supplies used within the grinding software wielded by the robotic. Athena has deployed six different robots, 4 of which weld the racks and two that load metallic into machines. Most of those off-the-shelf robots have been delivered in a number of weeks and could be programmed remotely from a telephone app, he stated.

“The robots have gotten simpler to make use of,” stated Michael Cicco, chief government officer of Fanuc America, a unit of Japan’s Fanuc Corp., a significant provider of business robots. “Corporations used to assume that automation was too onerous or too costly to implement.”

Daron Acemoglu, an economics professor at Massachusetts Institute of Expertise, stated factories’ rising reliance on automation will result in an oversupply of human labor that may drive down wages within the years forward, until different US industries can soak up displaced manufacturing employees.

“Automation, if it goes very quick, can destroy a number of jobs,” Mr. Acemoglu stated. “The labor scarcity is just not going to final. That is short-term.”

At Delphon, Mr. Montano stated the corporate began leasing robots about 4 years in the past to scale back the preliminary expense. The corporate now has 10 robots, together with 4 so-called cobots that function side-by-side with staff.

Delphon’s TouchMark subsidiary applies printing to the surfaces of medical units, reminiscent of catheters. Cobots now are turning and holding the units whereas a employee operates a printer that applies the ink to the machine. Mr. Montano stated two cobots decreased a three-person printing crew to at least one, saving the corporate $16,000 a month in bills.

Two different Delphon cobots assemble packaging for delivery semiconductors and different fragile cargo, that are shipped in plastic packing containers. Robots are actually getting used to wash the 2-inch-by-2-inch packing containers with jets of air, dispense a bead of glue inside them after which set up layers of mesh and the corporate’s silicone movie padding.

Mr. Montano stated Delphon is scaling up robots to work on larger-size packing containers. The robots have improved the corporate’s productiveness, he stated, leading to rising shipments about 15% in 2021 and 2020, respectively, with out rising the corporate’s workforce of 200 individuals.

“We have not decreased any head rely, however we reassigned them to the place we would have liked individuals,” he stated.

This story has been printed from a wire company feed with out modifications to the textual content

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