What the COVID Pandemic Taught Manufacturers About Automation.

Close up view of the Elite Covid HIKA vision

When COVID hit, it left many manufacturers wondering how to run an effective operation during lockdowns and amid social distancing recommendations. As a result, organizations turned to automation as a solution.


Forrester says businesses will be investing in automation more than rehiring employees they had to let go due to the pandemic. While many companies had automation plans, they decided it was time to accelerate those plans. Not only has automation proven to work during the pandemic, Forrester even claims that automation could be the key to business survival in the event of another COVID recession and the data suggests another economic downturn is on the horizon.

What precisely is driving this hyperdrive of automation adoption? Experts say that worker safety, increased demand, flexibility, quick changeover, and productivity are critical drivers for accelerating a business’s timetable for automation.

Worker Safety: According to the US Chamber of Commerce, companies deploying automation and robotics say they can create a safer workplace by reducing interactions between workers. However, warehouses, shop floors, and machine shops are all environments that typically see people working close to one another. In factories with speedy production lines, it’s almost impossible to follow social distancing guidelines. Add in the noise factor on the shop floor, and people working shoulder to shoulder are now shouting at one another to be heard, making it even easier for the virus to spread.

The New York Times reports, “…long-simmering worries about job losses or a broad unease about having machines control vital aspects of daily life could dissipate as society sees the benefits of restructuring workplaces in ways that minimize close human contact.”

Larry Adams article states that, “…manufacturers that employ 100 or more workers will need to have their workers fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Jan. 4 or get tested for the virus weekly under government rules issued Thursday, Nov. 4th 2021.

The rule goes into effect on Nov. 5, when an emergency temporary standard (ETS) is published in the Federal Register, with compliance required 30 days after publication. OSHA said companies that fail to comply with the regulations could face penalties of nearly $14,000 per violation.

OSHA issued the ETS that would require manufacturers employing 100 or more employees — even if those employees are spread throughout multiple facilities and include part-time workers — to establish measures that would protect unvaccinated employees.”

Yes, COVID certainly amplified the dangerous part of dirty, dangerous, and dull jobs already ripe for automation. The pandemic forced layout changes, and many experts believe social distancing guidelines will not go away even when this is all over. Social distancing is our new reality, and cobot can play an essential role as they help create distance between workers without sacrificing efficiency.

Increased Demand and Flexibility
Warehouses across the country and worldwide have seen increased demand due to a surge in e-commerce. In addition, the pandemic forced people around the globe to shop online for everything from personal items, entertainment, and even business purchases due to more and more people working from home.

Many manufacturers turned to e-commerce due to their distributors not being able to make sales calls. But, unfortunately, fulfilling more e-commerce orders means hiring more people, which is not the best solution during a pandemic.

Luckily, this pick and place role is perfect for collaborative robots. They can easily be taught to pick items from a bin or take an item off a shelf and assemble the order while moving about the facility.

Another reason for an increase in demand has been increased interest in reshoring US manufacturing due to the supply chain crisis. Dr. Flavio Bonomi, a board technology advisor at Lynx Software Technologies, wrote in Smart Industry that if we see this return to more US manufacturing, “technology like automation and cobots will be necessary for companies to compete with developing countries on cost. Cobots can help companies mitigate the full effect of the higher cost of US labor, but also keep active workers in heavily automated environments safe and productive.”

Productivity and Quick Changeover

Speaking of productive workers, an increase in demand demands a more productive operation. However, when everyone is spread out, social distancing becomes the enemy of productivity. The last thing you want to do when fighting to stay in business is turning away orders because social distancing has reduced capacity.

While you may have to rely on fewer human workers, you can make up for that shortage by implementing collaborative robots. It’s even highly likely that you will not need to raise prices for your customers at a time when they are most likely hurting as well.

Now, of course, you could opt to go wholly automated and keep your operation humming 24/7, but that is hardly realistic for most manufacturers, nor is it a quick fix. Sure, caged industrial robots run at break-neck speed and are fun to watch, but they are typically only able to do one task, and therefore you need to deploy many.

On the other hand, a cobot is easy to program and can be trained and deployed for multiple tasks very quickly. You also won’t have to break the news of complete automation of your factory in a time when bad news has been abundant.

While full automation is not a realistic goal, collaborative robots are a good step in the right direction to help accelerate your move toward a smart factory, otherwise known as Industry 4.0. You can start to use the data collected from your cobot’s sensors to move toward better, safer, smarter, and more efficient processes.

How fast can you deploy a cobot? Well, that depends on the application. But, typically, if you have all the peripherals, mounting components, a good plan, you can install it, have a program in a few days, and be ready for production in a week or less. To find out more information or talk about your application contact us via Elite Robot website.

Thanks to collaborative robots, manufacturers have new ways to address employment and demand fluctuations to keep companies profitable.

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