Automation is nothing new to high-volume, high-revenue machine shops. But mention automating, robots, and cobots to a small or mid-size job shop owner, and chances are you’ll receive skepticism and a chorus of “not for me” responses.
Yet companies of every type and size are delving into automation—and with good reason. The global industrial automation market is expected to grow 8.8% annually to nearly $442 billion by 2030, up from just over $177 billion in 2021. North America will lead the charge with the largest market share. Our own experience echoes the trend. Since 2020, we’ve doubled our business in helping machine tool job shops automate, and we expect even greater growth going forward.
While small and mid-size job shops in the machine tool market may feel that they’re being left behind in this trend, there’s plenty of good news. As technology advances and automated solutions become more affordable and easier to use, these shops are learning that automation can help them deal with the current labor market challenges, increase productivity, and improve their competitive position. Plus, connected technology applications are opening the door for job shops to implement Industry 4.0.
The bottom line is that even low-volume machine tool job shops can take full advantage of today’s trends in automation. When they understand the five key benefits of automating, it really is hard to say “no.”
1. Automation Mitigates Labor Issues
We all know that there’s a labor shortage. Finding and paying qualified employees is challenging at best. For smaller jobs, this results in lead times expanding as they simply can’t keep up. Or, to do so, they need to find (and pay) people to work overtime. When you bring in automation, that issue diminishes, as specially trained and highly skilled workers can be deployed to other critical non-automation roles robots cannot handle.
When companies do start to automate, they see increases in efficiency and process stability almost immediately. Lead times can easily go from six to two weeks, and workers are freed up to be more innovative and strategic. The result is more workflow, new growth opportunities, better utilization of capital assets, and happier customers.
2. Automation Works Well in Low-Volume Shops With Smaller Floor Space
A common misconception about automation is that you must do high volume to justify its incorporation at any level. Many shop owners believe they must be producing in batches of 5,000-10,000 or more and have facilities of 100,000 square feet or more. This is simply not the case.
Today, automation technology is available and works well in job shop environments with batch sizes as small as 20 to 100, and shop floors of 20,000 square feet or less.
3. The Integration and Changeover to Automated Solutions is Easier and Faster Than Expected
Many people associate automation with old-school robots, which could take weeks to implement or days to change over to a new job. Technology enhancements have significantly reduced this changeover to less than 15 minutes. With intuitive operator interfaces and easy up-front rollouts, automating is now easy on staff and process flow.
4. Automation is Affordable, With Fast ROI rRealization
Every situation is different, but most shops will see a return on investment (ROI) in 6 to 12 months. Companies with a history of designing, building, and integrating custom automation solutions can provide sophisticated and customizable software to run analyses based on shop specifics and provide a comprehensive ROI model.
5. You Don’t Need to Fly Solo
Understanding your tool life, dealing with chip control, programming cobots (collaborative robots that interact safely with humans) and more can be intimidating at first. So is just knowing where to start: Where does automation make the most sense to implement? Where will it have the greatest impact? Companies that specialize in automation implementation provide this type of comprehensive assistance, and are truly in the business of solutions, not just selling products. They will work with customers to develop detailed, step-by-step plans for implementation, outline and prepare for any potential issues, and work together through the process.
American author and leadership expert John Maxwell said, “Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.” For machine job shops struggling with labor market shortages and the pressure to remain competitive, the advent of automation advances is a welcome answer. With benefits that clearly outweigh the costs in the short term, automation can open up a world—literally—of opportunity that will make you say “yes!”
Arie Thompson is Director of Sales and Application Engineering at Gosiger Automation, a family-owned and operated machine tool distributor and manufacturing solutions provider headquartered in Dayton, Ohio. With a focus on client relationships, Gosiger offers CNC machine tools, high-volume CNC machine tools, automation solutions, engineering support, parts, and service and financing. https://www.gosiger.com/