The costs of keeping workers safe in dangerous manufacturing environments is high and will likely continue to rise as the need for PPE and appropriate workplace distancing increases. In these situations, automation not only presents an opportunity to reduce costs and improve efficiency, but also reduce the human costs—workplace injuries and illness. While automation has always had the ability to disrupt labor markets, the benefits of automation to businesses and to human health and safety far outweigh their drawbacks.
8 Benefits of Automation for Businesses and Employees
According to MIT, automation equipment has the potential to replace 3.3 workers in a given position in the U.S. While this can shrink labor markets, it also has the potential to create the distance between employees now necessary to prevent the spread of illness. Giving repetitive, dangerous, close-proximity work over to machines also has multiple benefits.
1. Reduced Direct Labor Costs
Reduced labor costs are one of the first benefits of automation that comes to mind. With the jobs of three or more workers completed by a machine, the costs of wages must be balanced against the costs of initial investment, upkeep and maintenance. With a proper maintenance schedule, a machine can continue operating effectively for many years for a fraction of the cost of three employees.
2. Reduced Injuries
Looking at work-related injuries, manufacturing is one of the most dangerous industries, second only to social assistance occupations, such as emergency response. Research shows automation can reduce three out of the five leading causes of workplace injuries, including contact with harmful objects, heavy lifting, and repetitive stress injuries. In total, robots and automation equipment have the potential to reduce workplace manufacturing injuries by up to 72%.
3. Reduced Indirect Labor Costs
In 2017, the National Safety Council found the total costs of workplace injuries amounted to $161.5 billion. This includes not only medical costs, but also costs due to lost time and administrative expenses. One of the benefits of automation includes reducing workplace injuries, and also reducing the associated administrative and paid leave costs. This also reduces other indirect labor costs, such as 401k benefits, overtime, sick leave and more.
4. More Accurate Record-Keeping
While a person can easily mismark a sheet or push the wrong button, a machine that is installed and set up properly will always perform the task as directed. This is especially helpful when detailed record-keeping is mandatory, such as tracking required by FSMA and other regulations. When inaccurate record-keeping can create hazards, such as tracking and recalling tainted food, a machine’s diligent record-keeping can also help to protect consumers.
5. Improved Consistency
Machines do not get distracted or side-tracked with another task, and there’s very little variability in a machine’s performance. This means the task will be performed the same way every time. From dispensing ingredients to assembling parts and everything in between, automation improves consistency across the process and in the final product, improving quality and reducing costs of product defects.
6. Increased Efficiency
A person cannot be expected to work continuously without breaks. A person also has limits to the speed with which they can work safely. A machine also has limits, though they’re much greater than a person’s. With proper installation and programming, automated equipment can work almost seamlessly together, running at the same time and all but eliminating downtime completely.
7. Freedom From Monotony
Automated equipment is ideal for repetitive tasks. A machine can be programmed one time and work quickly and consistently for the rest of its useful lifetime. By contrast, humans perform better when tasks are engaging, requiring critical thinking and multiple skill sets. Removing monotonous, repetitive and, often, dangerous tasks, allows employees to take on more challenging and important tasks. Machines should not be expected to monitor themselves, and trained personnel must be able to calibrate, test and verify that the machines are working properly.
8. Continuous Improvement
With automated equipment performing the same tasks consistently, there are fewer variables to measure. This makes it easier to monitor a process and isolate problems. By placing sensors at key points in the process, managers can track variation and maintain accuracy, or make corrections to improve the process. With different workers performing a process in slightly different ways, it is more difficult to uniformly make improvements.
Automation equipment can upset labor markets, however this equipment can also protect workers from hazards. Giving dangerous and monotonous tasks over to machines and reducing the total number of workers in a facility has the potential to reduce the spread of illness and reduce workplace injuries, while also reducing costs. For these machines to perform properly, installation and verification are essential. In our next blog post, we’ll discuss the “Trust, But Verify” principle and its importance in automation.