Canadian Packaging

Automate these ten “dirty” industrial jobs

By Dean Elkins   

When it comes to employing a workforce for your company, job satisfaction and workplace safety are key factors for hiring, retention, profitability, and overall company success. However, when jobs are dirty, dull, or dangerous, hiring new workers or maintaining employee satisfaction and safety can be difficult, to say the least.

Robots help satisfy this job gap by completing the duties human workers are physically unable to fulfill or by accomplishing dangerous tasks or high-turnover job functions (a.k.a. “dirty” jobs) that would otherwise remain undone. But, is the investment in robotic automation really worth it?

According to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), by 2020, there will be 1.7 million new robots introduced into production factories around the world. This confirms that companies are realizing the game-changing benefits that automation can provide, making robots the perfect solution for hazardous environments and applications that are repetitive, harsh or grimy.

The top ten “dirty” jobs industrial robots tackle


Skeptics may doubt the strong competitive advantage that innovative automation solutions can offer, but robots are increasingly being used to perform “dirty” jobs, in which they reliably meet or exceed requirements for diverse industries in every regard. From heavy-payload applications to rigorous, repetitive tasks, robots can tackle the toughest jobs while adding value to your operations.

Die cast and forge
Under the most intense and environmentally challenging conditions, industrial robots automate a wide range of casting and foundry processes. A robot can be equipped to withstand common foundry hazards such as coolants, die lubrication, airborne particles, and severe heat, making it an effective automation solution.

Job #1 — Ladling Molten Metal: Automation can significantly enhance ladling, extracting, and degating processes associated with making molds, increasing throughput.
Job #2 — Loading/Unloading a Trim Press: Implementing robotic handling can eliminate lifting and repetitive motion tasks, improving worker safety while meeting cycle-time requirements.

Machine tending
Machine tending robots can be used to automate a complete range of processes, including turning, milling grinding, broaching, and boring. While the automobile industry has long used industrial robots for standard and heavy payload applications, end users in other industries are deploying powerful and flexible robots to improve throughput, quality, and consistency as well.

Job #3 — Transporting Heavy Parts/Weldments: Automating the handling of large heavy parts can greatly improve consistency, accuracy, and quality, eliminating rework and reducing cycle time.

Press tending or stamping
Robotic automation provides the power and durability for high-duty cycles that press tending or stamping applications require. Likewise, press tending robots have higher vibration ratings to tolerate the tough conditions often encountered in press rooms. Multiple robot control (for precise coordinated motion and streamlined multi-stage processes) is also an option that manufacturers may find necessary to properly and safely complete certain applications.

Job #4 — Press Tending Operation: A wide range of robot models, various mounting configurations, and versatile options provide the flexibility needed to accommodate exact press tending requirements, including frequent die changes.
Job #5 — Press Brake Operation: From small to large parts, robots are ideal for press brake applications and significantly improve operator safety by eliminating repetitive lifting. Various gripper options and flexible regrip/orientation stations make difficult positioning simple during the bending sequence as well. Peripherals such as infeed magazines, outfeed pallets and conveyors can be purchased to create a complete automation solution.

Other applications
Regardless of the industry, automation solutions can be tailored to fit precise application needs to achieve optimal efficiency, productivity, and ROI. With industrial applications, success hinges on ensuring that high-quality products are manufactured and delivered to consumers as planned with minimal expense. In clinical laboratory operations, the key is to correctly identify, prepare, route, and maintain each specimen to provide consistently accurate results.

Job #6 — Palletizing Heavy Containers: In packing applications, everything depends on consistency and efficiency. Whether your focus is food and beverage, pharmaceuticals, consumer products or specialty items, heavy-duty palletizing robots easily move bags, boxes and containers to fully load pallets.
Job #7 — Welding Parts: When experienced welders oversee the robotic welding of parts, manufacturers can yield higher-quality welds, conserve materials, reduce cycle time, increase throughput, and reduce costs associated with direct labour and safety measures.
Job #8 — Trimming Automotive Components or General Industry Parts: The use of automation for the cutting and trimming of materials breaks the limitations of conventional cutting. Innovative methods like ultrasonic cutting provide safer, cleaner and more agile alternatives to labor-intensive manual trimming. Robotic tools can also add versatility and streamline changeovers, reducing operation costs in the process.
Job #9 — Painting/Coating Parts: Fine-tuning the paint or adhesive spraying process via industrial robotic automation creates a safer working environment, provides consistent finishes for improved quality, and saves on materials and costs.
Job #10 — Processing Specimens: Clinical laboratory automation serves to minimize contamination or cross-contamination, maintaining specimen integrity. Using a robot for handling, decapping/recapping, and aliquoting of specimens can eliminate potential worker health issues caused by repetitive motion or exposure to aerosolized sample.

Industrial robots can help achieve productivity gains

When faced with the decision to invest in robotic automation to tackle a “dirty” job, like ladling molten metal, palletizing heavy containers, or decapping specimen tubes, your first instinct may be to focus on choosing the robotic components needed to get the job done. While spec’ing out a robot or system is important, current trends in manufacturing are driving more attention to factors like return on investment (ROI) and payback time.

When pricing robot models and automation components, it is important to understand all associated costs of implementation and the value that can be gained for your operations. Yaskawa’s Automate This Job calculator is a simple tool that can help you calculate the total value of automating “dirty” jobs that often experience high turnover.

Key inputs for the value calculator include:

  • Your current labour situation (labourers/shifts/turnover rate and expense)
  • Your desired outcome (labour retained/shifts/productivity gain)
  • Your target payback period for a system investment (typically 18-24 months)

The value calculations cover the span of your target payback period, addressing the following factors:

  • Cost Savings
    • Labour savings from system
  • Productivity Gains
    • Recovery of time and cost spent finding and retraining new hires
    • Additional productivity realized from a robotic system
  • Cost of operating and maintaining robotic system
    • Retraining and ramp-up time and cost
    • Assumes an operating cost of .75/hr

Your net gain covers the payback period you define in the calculator, less system cost, to give you a budgetary guideline before you dig into the details of shopping for a system.

Robots have come a long way in the last decade, handling the dirtiest jobs and providing competitive advantages. If you have yet to consider automation for your operations, now may be the perfect time to evaluate your total cost of investment and to realize the productivity gains waiting to be discovered.

Dean Elkins is Segment Leader, Material Handling at Yaskawa America, Inc. – Motoman Robotics Division


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