Manufacturers are rethinking the merits of keeping industrial operations overseas due to rising wages abroad and rising transportation costs. The current generation of robots is a crucial component of the equation, as the offshoring of US industry is about to take off.
Many companies that can be linked to the offshoring wave of the 1980s and 1990s now want to set up in North America. The reason is a combination of cost, risk and time.
According to Joe Campbell, senior director of application development and strategic marketing at Universal Robots, the “Great Resignation” is having a significant impact on production. Increases in wage and transport costs have not been enough to generate the momentum that many had hoped for. The lack of an adequate local workforce is one of the main reasons why many companies are hesitant to offshore.
The proportion of vacant manufacturing jobs has increased by 6.3% since the pandemic’s peak. By 2022, it would mean a loss of industrial production of almost $98 billion, according to Adrian Choy, product manager for robotics at OMRON. Only if a US company can achieve the same or greater production efficiency at a lower cost could it offshore manufacturing.
The use of robots is the solution for companies trying to offshore their production because there is no end in sight to the labour shortage. Many manufacturers are using automation techniques such as robots to solve this problem. Jerry Perez, director of FANUC’s Americas executive sales team, says robots are the way of the future.
Robots make offshoring possible by manipulating the numbers in the production equation. Thirty-seven percent of the 375 US manufacturers who participated in the research intended to offshore, and 41% wanted to further automate their production processes. Robots typically produce a return on investment (ROI) within a few years.
Thanks to newer, more sophisticated systems, such as collaborative robots and autonomous mobile robots (AMR), offshoring projects offer advantages that more conventional robots do not. This is especially true for applications that are trying to fill labour shortages.
According to Choy, when thinking about industrial robots, it is more common to think of cobots and AMR than articulated arms, parallel robots or SCARA robots. According to him, industrial robots often require the support of skilled automation engineers for the creation, programming and integration of solutions. In addition, they require considerable restructuring of current production processes to accommodate the new technology.
Robots are no longer an optional tool to increase productivity, but a crucial resource for offshoring activities to the United States or to help companies maintain their domestic operations. They save labour overheads, increase production efficiency and free human workers to concentrate on jobs that require intellect. Previously, the upfront and ongoing costs of this technology prevented companies from using it.
Compared to traditional robots, cobots and advanced manufacturing robots (AMR) are “easier to integrate, reconfigure and maintain”, according to Jeff Kingston, Chief Technology Officer of the Robotic Process Automation Institute (RPAI). He says these new robots may not need as many products, such as extensive guarding, to provide a complete solution.
Companies that want to bring component production back to the US are part of the offshoring movement. Custom-engineered die-cast aluminium component manufacturer Acme Alliance, located in Northbrook, Illinois, is one company at the forefront. It serves a wide range of industries, including oil and natural gas, small engines and agriculture, as well as automotive and shipping.
Acme Alliance uses ABB robots in all of its die casting machines. To meet the growing demand for locally manufactured components, Acme is increasingly turning to robotics. “There has been a huge labour shortage throughout our industry,” said JR Kinnett, CEO of Acme Alliance.
“We are able to produce more items overall for the same price, he continued, so we can compete with nations that have much lower labour costs.”
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