Automation continues to increase in manufacturing. It’s growing by leaps and bounds in warehouses, too. What’s the effect?
One effect is greater safety for workers.
The top cause of sick leave for American workers is back pain. Robots, conveyor belts, and other automated systems can make back injuries from overexertion and repetitive motion a thing of the past. The total cost of back pain in the U.S. is estimated at $100 billion dollars a year. OSHA figures direct costs — such as workmen’s comp payments and lost production — at $45 billion. This makes back injuries a major source of economic as well as physical pain.
Lifting heavy things and performing repetitive actions is something automation is particularly good at.
Automation can also reduce accidents. Two primary causes of accidents in factories are fatigue and trying to keep up with ambitious speed demands. Workers have been known to disable safety features in order to reach manufacturing goals. Combine this with physically demanding work and night shifts, and the result is an accident waiting to happen.
Machinery with safety features makes a difference. Rexroth has safety measures built into newer models. Robots can now sense the presence of humans and shut down movements before making contact.
Motion control systems will also shut down before reaching dangerous temperatures or making uncontrolled movements or movements outside of a safe area. These are not add-on features that can be easily disabled by people on the line.
As automation increases, human workers can be sent to safer areas of the warehouse and set to safer tasks in the factory. Machines can take on more dangerous and repetitive tasks. The outcome is a positive one for workers.
We’ve recently read about consumers boycotting what they see as job-seizing automation. Refusing to use self checkout at the grocery store may have no effect on automation in the long run, but it’s a sign of an attitude. And it’s an attitude that might be worth rethinking. The result of automation in factories and warehouses can be greater safety, not unemployment.