Published On: June 10, 2024Tags: , , ,

The Future of Work: How Industrial Manipulators Can Address the Labor Shortage in Manufacturing

The manufacturing industry is facing an unprecedented labor shortage that impacts productivity, profitability, and potentially the long-term viability of companies in this space. That’s the bad news for manufacturers. The good news is that technology — specifically industrial manipulators — can help compensate for the declining workforce.

This article explains why manufacturing is experiencing a labor shortage, what industrial manipulators are, and how companies can use them to help employees do more work with less effort.

Why the Manufacturing Workforce Is Shrinking

If you’re a manufacturing company owner, department manager, or other stakeholder, you are likely painfully aware of the changes occurring in the manufacturing labor pool. You’re probably finding it harder than ever to attract and retain workers and keep your headcount where it needs to be. As you know, that’s a serious problem as you strive to deliver high-quality products to meet contract requirements.

Some of the many reasons for the workforce challenges manufacturers face today include:

  • Aging labor pool. A significant portion of skilled manufacturing workers are nearing retirement age, and there aren’t enough younger workers entering the field to replace them.
  • Lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic disrupted supply chains, caused layoffs, and highlighted health and safety concerns in the manufacturing industry, reducing the workforce and making it more difficult for companies to attract talent.
  • Shifting career preferences. Younger generations often view manufacturing jobs as less desirable due to perceived lower pay, demanding physical labor, and limited career advancement opportunities.
  • Low unemployment rate. Fewer people are looking for work today, which affects the number of those who are considering a job in manufacturing.
  • Skills gap. Many manufacturing positions require specialized technical skills. However, there has been a shift in recent decades away from vocational training. Consequently, there is a growing gap between the skills employers need and those that job seekers possess.
  • Economic factors. Fluctuations in the economy, global competition, and changes in consumer demand have led to uncertainty in the manufacturing sector, making it less attractive to potential employees.

To address this critical issue, manufacturers are turning to innovative solutions. One technology that is proving particularly effective is the industrial manipulator.

What Are Industrial Manipulators?

The term “industrial manipulator” covers a wide variety of pneumatic machines designed to assist workers as they pick up, move, and manage materials, parts, and products in a manufacturing setting. They include lift-assist devices and material handling systems that help workers lift, move, and position heavy or awkward objects safely and efficiently, reducing injury risks and increasing productivity.

Industrial manipulators enable workers to complete operations with minimal physical effort and a high degree of accuracy. Those are just a few of the reasons these devices are so valuable for manufacturing companies, including those facing labor shortages.

6 Ways Industrial Manipulators Help Manufacturers Address Workforce Challenges

You’ve worked too hard landing new customers and getting orders from existing ones to say to anyone, “I’m sorry, but we’re understaffed and won’t be able to complete this work.” That’s simply not an option if you want to maintain a strong reputation in your industry and keep your company healthy and thriving.

While you can’t fill job openings that no one has applied for, you can fill spots on a production line with industrial manipulators that help employees pick up the slack. Some of the many benefits manufacturers see when they implement lift-assist devices or material handling systems include:

  1. Increased productivity. Industrial manipulators allow companies to produce more with fewer workers by automating repetitive and physically demanding tasks. A single operator can control a manipulator to move heavy loads, manipulate complex parts, or perform intricate assembly operations that would otherwise require multiple employees.
  2. Improved ergonomics and safety. Many manufacturing jobs involve repetitive motions and heavy lifting, leading to musculoskeletal disorders and injuries. Industrial manipulators reduce the physical strain on workers, creating a safer and more ergonomic work environment. This can help attract and retain workers by demonstrating a commitment to their well-being.
  3. Enhanced flexibility and adaptability. Industrial manipulators can be easily reprogrammed and redeployed to perform different tasks as production needs change. This flexibility allows companies to adapt to shifting demand, evolving product lines, or new market conditions without hiring additional workers or having to provide extensive retraining.
  4. Increased appeal for younger workers. Integrating advanced technology like industrial manipulators can make manufacturing jobs more appealing to younger generations. By automating mundane tasks and emphasizing the use of cutting-edge tools, manufacturers can showcase the industry’s innovation and create a more stimulating work environment.
  5. Cost savings. While the initial investment in industrial manipulators may seem significant, the long-term return on investment (ROI) can be substantial. Manufacturers can achieve considerable savings by reducing labor costs, minimizing workplace injuries, increasing productivity, and improving quality. Then, they can channel the surplus into recruiting efforts if appropriate.
  6. Increased job satisfaction. People feel good about themselves and their contribution to a company’s success when their shift ends, and a scan of their work area reveals all they’ve accomplished today in “partnership” with an industrial manipulator.

Industrial Manipulators Support a Wide Variety of Industries

For many people, the image that comes to mind for industrial manipulators is devices helping to build cars. However, these highly customizable systems can be used in manufacturing processes in an array of industries, including:

  • Industrial manipulators can lift and reposition large, heavy spools, rolls, and bales with ease.
  • Food and beverage companies use these systems to handle drums, pails, plastic and paper rolls, bottles, boxes, and other items.
  • From bags and boxes to pails and drums, lift-assist devices and material handlers help chemical companies work efficiently and safely.
  • Industrial manipulators can handle virtually any component of the manufacturing process, including glass, seats, wheels, doors, batteries, dashboards, and more.
  • Industrial manipulators are commonly used to handle all types of containers, paper and plastic rolls, bags, and more.
  • Safe, ergonomic, and efficient work is essential in this industry, and industrial manipulators help packaging companies achieve their goals in these areas.
  • The electromechanical industry creates products like air conditioners, electric motors, televisions, washing machines, and other appliances. Lift-assist devices help workers move components and finished products alone when the task previously required two (and sometimes more) employees.
  • Doors, window frames, wood panels, glass, and pallets are just a few examples of items industrial manipulators lift and move in this industry.
  • In foundry settings, industrial manipulators assist with handling molds, rims, precision casting pieces, and more, enabling precision work while also increasing productivity and safety.
  • The building sector benefits from industrial manipulators’ ability to be customized to safely lift and move virtually any type of item or material, including ceramics, glass, insulating materials, building products, etc.
  • And many others

Ultimately, industrial manipulators can make tasks faster, more efficient, and safer anywhere that handling parts, products, or materials is part of the job description.

Customized Solutions for Maximized Benefits

Characteristics like the strength, precision, and versatility of industrial manipulators are some of the reasons they can play a pivotal role in overcoming workforce challenges. However, you can get even more benefits from lift-assist devices and material handlers if you work with Dalmec’s manufacturing process experts to go beyond purchasing systems to implement solutions.

We work with your internal teams to understand the parameters of the tasks you want to streamline with industrial manipulators. Then, we recommend specific solutions — from base devices and their attachments to how to position the units on your production lines and within your workflows. The result is solutions that integrate seamlessly with your processes.

Final Thoughts

The labor shortage affecting manufacturing companies is significant and shows no signs of letting up. If it hasn’t impacted your business yet, the odds are it will eventually. Challenges faced by manufacturers around the country demonstrate that this isn’t a pessimistic outlook but rather a realistic one.

However, your company doesn’t have to be at the mercy of an aging workforce, career preferences, or other factors that are leading to a dwindling labor pool. Industrial manipulators can help employees work more efficiently and effectively while reducing injury risk.

It’s important to remember that these systems aren’t stopgap measures. They’re proven across many industries to produce measurable, long-term productivity increases and safety improvements, regardless of a company’s staffing level. Should the workforce pendulum swing the other way at some point, your industrial manipulators will continue to deliver impressive benefits.

In fact, we may be witnessing the arrival of the future of manufacturing: powerful pairings of human workers and industrial manipulators that help companies exceed their most optimistic expectations for output, injury-free operations, and profitability.

Contact us today to learn how industrial manipulators can address your organization’s specific labor shortage issues.

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