Robot makers and integrators say demand for automation is off the charts due to the labor shortage and other factors.
At the automotive factory behind Key Manufacturing LLC in Madison, Ind., workers with attendance issues are fired one day, hired back the next.
At least that’s the impression of Key GM Anthony Neeley. The 34-year manufacturing veteran says the labor market has never been tighter — it is one of the reasons why the company has gone from one robot to seven over his four-year tenure.
“We’re picking the parts out of the press with the robot, laying them on conveyors, indexing the conveyor. … We’ve taken processes that used to go through a WIP process, which is work-in-progress. We would load it, send it to WIP, bring it back, put it in an assembly. … We’ve automated some jobs like that, where we took the WIP completely out, freed up warehouse space. … It’s all about getting lean,” Neeley said.
Key’s automation investment mirrors the binge taking place throughout the plastics industry. Representatives of robot makers and integrators draw from lists of superlatives to describe demand, with words like “fantastic,” “unimaginable” and “crazy.”
Just how good are things for robot sellers?
For the first time, Robbie Devlin, president of robot and automation integrator DevLinks, said robot users are stocking up, hedging their bets amid long lead times as supply chain problems drag on.
“We’ve actually had customers who ordered robots, have put deposits on robots, and they don’t know what projects they are going to use them on … just so we can get robots on order and get them in the pipeline,” he said. “… I believe that the demand for robotics has gone up 200 percent or maybe more during the pandemic.”