By Ashley Levesque on November 4, 2019
Here are the major challenges facing manufacturers today:
● they don’t have enough available labor to scale production up and down as demand requires
● their current workforce is aging out and the next generation of workers isn’t interested in working in manufacturing
● they struggle with inconsistent or unreliable workers
There are, of course, many reasons why it’s hard for manufacturers to accomplish their targets. Ultimately though, it’s possible that the single biggest reason is the labor constraint.
With unemployment rates down in the world’s most industrialized countries, these conditions make it even harder to find the workers needed. So, the question is: if there aren’t people to build our products, who will?
The answer: robots.
The human hand. It’s useful for everything – from playing piano concertos to digging the last potato chips out of the bag. Finding something as adaptable as the human hand is one of the biggest challenges in automating tasks.
Just Born Quality Confection Co, the confectionary company best known for its iconic, marshmallow Peeps®, was looking for this adaptability. Their packaging process involved pulling employees (approximately ten at a time) from other tasks in order to meet the demand of one packaging process. It was disruptive and not sustainable. What the company needed was a flexible automation solution that could pick and pack the soft, delicate Peeps®, and adapt to a changing product mix – all while keeping up with a high production rate.
Problem solved. Soft Robotics’ unique grippers are successfully running this incredibly delicate marshmallow treats with no loss of quality to the product. Today, the company processes 13 SKUs with Soft Robotics grippers, eliminating Just Born’s need for manual packing and increasing their supply chain productivity.
One of the fastest-growing segments of the supply chain is warehousing service or fulfillment operations, especially in the area of e-commerce (expected to grow 6% annually through 2022). One obstacle to that growth is the employee turnover rate which is estimated to be 40% or higher. The cost of hiring and training workers is high as well – estimated to be between $3,000 and $10,000 per instance.
More and more consumers are foregoing the brick-and-mortar retail experience. They are drawn by the ease of online shopping and e-retailers’ promises of free and fast shipping. (Yes I will gladly take 18 Ben and Jerry pints shipped to my door thankssomuch). These customer demands put an added burden on the industry already starved of reliable and dependable labor. That’s where robots provide the solution needed to meet customer expectations for the right product, at the right time. Able to perform highly repetitive tasks, and skilled enough to manage product variability seamlessly, robots can increase productivity, and manage SKU proliferation challenges all while lowering costs.
With robots on the job, manufacturers can put people to work on the challenges of product and process innovation, quality, and problem-solving.
It’s a powerful model that can meet the evolving nature of manufacturing – moving toward a more sophisticated supply chain that is built on consumer demand and better able to respond to fluctuations in the global business environment.
According to Justin Rose, an analyst at Boston Consulting Group, 60 percent of the tasks on production floors could – but have not yet –been automated. If you’re ready to improve productivity and efficiency in your operations for sustainable and long-term gain, we are ready to help.