Embracing automation

Published
January 10,2019 - 09:30am

Related Glossary Terms

  • computer numerical control ( CNC)

    computer numerical control ( CNC)

    Microprocessor-based controller dedicated to a machine tool that permits the creation or modification of parts. Programmed numerical control activates the machine’s servos and spindle drives and controls the various machining operations. See DNC, direct numerical control; NC, numerical control.

  • flexible manufacturing system ( FMS)

    flexible manufacturing system ( FMS)

    Automated manufacturing system designed to machine a variety of similar parts. System is designed to minimize production changeover time. Computers link machine tools with the workhandling system and peripherals. Also associated with machine tools grouped in cells for efficient production. See cell manufacturing.

  • flexible manufacturing system ( FMS)2

    flexible manufacturing system ( FMS)

    Automated manufacturing system designed to machine a variety of similar parts. System is designed to minimize production changeover time. Computers link machine tools with the workhandling system and peripherals. Also associated with machine tools grouped in cells for efficient production. See cell manufacturing.

  • robotics

    robotics

    Discipline involving self-actuating and self-operating devices. Robots frequently imitate human capabilities, including the ability to manipulate physical objects while evaluating and reacting appropriately to various stimuli. See industrial robot; robot.

The February issue will include a focus on automation. Cover design by Gina Stehl

As the cover indicates, the February issue will include a focus on automation. In addition to Contributing Editor Kip Hanson’s cover story about automating CNC lathes, I wrote about the productivity gains Camcraft Inc. is realizing after installing a Makino Machining Complex (MMC2) flexible manufacturing system.

Whenever I write about companies with an FMS, which provides automated material handling via a rail-guided vehicle that transports a pallet of workpieces to a machine, I find that the companies realize growth in terms of sales, workforce and plant size. For example, Janusz Ksel, director of manufacturing for Camcraft, said the Hanover Park, Illinois-based manufacturer steadily grows nearly every year at about a 5 percent pace while expanding its facility roughly 50 percent over time and continuing to hire more workers.

In addition to the FMS, Camcraft has 29 robotic installations, many incorporating equipment from its Bartlett, Illinois-based sister company, Matrix Design LLC, which produces industrial automation systems.

With the productivity gains and other benefits automation brings, including creating jobs at manufacturers that effectively apply robots to remain competitive and grow and generating a need for more robotics technicians to help keep robots up and running, I find it curious when some people perpetuate the myth that robots take away jobs.

In an opinion piece by Thomas B. Edsall published Dec. 13, 2018, in The New York Times, he wrote that “one more robot in a ‘commuting zone’ reduces employment by about six workers,” based on a paper by an economist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one at Boston University. Edsall added that the economists’ paper demonstrates that the Midwest and sections of the South have far higher ratios of robots to populations than other U.S. regions.

“These job losses are concentrated in blue-collar occupations, such as machinists, assemblers, material handlers and welders,” Edsall stated. “Workers in these occupations engage in tasks that are being automated by industrial robots, so it is natural for them to experience the bulk of the displacement effect created by this technology.”

In response to the column, Jeff Burnstein, president of the Association for Advancing Automation, wrote a blog post that casts a clearer light on the positive role of robots and how they don’t steal jobs.

“When companies lose to their competition, that’s when workers lose jobs,” Burnstein wrote. “There seems to be this idea: If the robots hadn’t shown up, the jobs would have stayed. But nothing could be further from reality. Here’s the truth: We aren’t using enough robots.”

That makes sense considering that the U.S. jobless rate is expected to fall further and, according to his blog, the U.S. is 16th in the world in its robot adoption rate. The slow rate will hamper the ability of the U.S. to compete, Burnstein concluded, and may ultimately harm the American worker.

Author

Editor-at-large

Alan holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Including his 20 years at CTE, Alan has more than 30 years of trade journalism experience.