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Why Include the Workforce in Factory Automation?

By: Jason Walker | CEO & Co-Founder
Jason Walker speaking to SupplyChainBrain

At Waypoint, we talk a lot about the importance of designing robots for workers. Why do we think is this so important?

We know that to ensure success, people MUST be included in any automation strategy. Your workforce knows the job better than anyone. If you involve them early in the process and encourage creative thinking, you’ll see new technologies embraced with better outcomes. Backbreaking and mind-numbing tasks will be delegated to the robots while your workforce can more effectively focus on valuable jobs. A happier, more engaged workforce will stay and make it easier  to attract more great people.

Empower People with Intuitive Tools 

This brings us back to the automation tools themselves.  Advanced products like Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) can be installed in factories and warehouses without infrastructure changes offering a considerable opportunity for manufacturers to obtain real productivity results. But if these AMRs require experts to set up and extensive training to operate, workers will be excluded from the process and be understandably resistant. This is why we developed easy to use AMRs that can be set up and employed by the existing workforce. These tools can be put directly into workers’ capable hands ensuring they will be an essential part of the industrial march towards automation and Industry 4.0.

This design philosophy caught the attention of the folks at SupplyChainBrain, a leading logistics and supply chain information resource. They recently sat down with Waypoint CEO Jason Walker to dive in. Here’s an excerpt:

SCB: What do we mean when we talk about robots for the workforce, as distinct from those for other types of applications?

Walker: The issue is that robots have always been something that either displaced workers or were placed next to them, and they’ve had to put up with them and work around them. For the first time in history, we’re developing robots for the workforce, and we think other robotics companies ought to be doing that too.

SCB: What do you mean by “for the workforce”?

Walker: Traditionally, robots have been so hard to set up and use that you needed to be a robotics or automation engineer. The work of small to mid-sized manufacturers is variable, and changes every day. So setting up a single rigid configuration wasn’t worth it, if it had to be reset up by an expert every time.

“For the workforce” means that whoever’s on that loading dock or assembly can take ownership of the robot. They can be the ones to configure and reconfigure it, and to put it to use. They become part of Industry 4.0, and the automation future of their company.

SCB: In what types of settings does this particular technology best function? We’re here at a material handling show, where it’s all about distribution centers and warehousing. Is that a particularly good spot for this technology to be installed?

Walker: It works really well in those situations, but we’ve actually designed for what we think is a more difficult situation, which is small to mid-sized manufacturers, where the work changes all the time. Dealing with variability is one of the things that companies have to solve to make their products “Bobby First.”

SCB: Still, when I think of factories, I envision facilities that are especially prone to total automation. Why should people be in there at all? Do they actually have a role in the continued manufacturing of product within the four walls of the plant?

Walker: If you’re talking about Ford, where everything’s choreographed to the millisecond, that’s a different story. If you’re talking about the other 90 percent of American manufacturing, where it’s a 50-year-old machine shop and they haven’t done anything towards automation, they still have machinists who are walking a quarter of a mile from one end of the factory to the other to pick up materials. 

The machinists hate that — they know it’s a waste of their capabilities. On a day-to-day basis, it’s physically exhausting. So there’s an opportunity for that worker to have a better life, because you’re not doing an essential but low-value task. In a labor market as tight as what we have now, that’s a big win, irrespective of all the other easily calculable ROIs.

See the SupplyChainBrain interview in its entirety:

Jason Walker_SupplyChainBrain video
[Links to video on SupplyChainBrain website]

In October, be sure to catch Jason’s Robobusines talk: The Workforce: Design for Them or Fail at Industry 4.0   (10/2, 3:30pm) as he expands on the importance of including the workforce in any new automation project. Don’t miss it!

If you have any questions about the Waypoint Robotics design philosophy or our industrial strength, autonomous mobile robots including Vector & MAV3K, please be sure to reach out.

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