Posted by on

“One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man.” – Elbert Hubbard

Dispelling the Myth

Normatively, continuous innovation—the process of the development and application of new ideas and technologies—has a substantial and positive impact on productivity, and subsequently affects the economy in positive ways as well. However, is this always the case? Concern over whether or not robots and automated processes will serve to replace human workers in the future and render thousands in the manufacturing industry jobless reminds us that change seldom takes place without some resistance.

At one of Edmonton’s most well-respected and innovative manufacturing companies, Weldco-Beales Manufacturing, the company’s ideals don’t reflect this narrative of dread and concern over robots joining the workforce. In fact, once Weldco decided to put its welding robots to good use, they’ve streamlined the welding process tremendously. Considered a frontrunner in the industry in terms of innovation and automation, Weldco introduced its first welding robot in 1994 and currently operate five robots in 2014. Other manufacturing companies in the greater Edmonton area have, accordingly, followed suit.

Contrary to popular belief, welding robots don’t replace employees. Introducing robotics into the welding process actually require the onboarding of more workers. Humans must be present to operate, maintain, program, and troubleshoot the machines, and more profoundly, using machines for large-scale, high-output repeat orders frees up human welders for smaller-scale custom work. It’s more of a cyclical process than a cut and paste system. Instead of just deciding to bring robots into a manufacturing facility without a long-term plan in order, robots are purchased in an attempt to manufacture consistent, uniform, and higher-quality equipment in large volumes; humans are hired to take care of them; this dramatically increases the company’s capacity for output due to the efficiency of the machines, and at the same time, more custom work can be done. Due to this increased capacity, the company can process more orders at a greater speed and service more clients. When demand spikes, purchasing another robot is feasible, and the cycle starts again.

Unlocking Potential

At the same time, there has been some speculation over whether or not robots could in fact be the long-term solution to labour shortages in Alberta. Even keeping in mind that robotics and innovation can re-invigorate our economy, Edmonton’s industrial sector represents the largest employment growth sector in the city, accounting for almost 36% of total forecasted employment growth. Over 50,000 workers are employed in Alberta’s metal manufacturing sector alone. In Western Canada, the mechanical element in the oil and gas industry is what drives the economy and stimulates the need for robotics, and robotics skills, in the first place. Workers who have knowledge of and who are trained in robotics automation control studies, including pneumatics, hydraulics, and control systems would be assets for manufacturing companies. The important thing to do in a modern industry is to ensure that workers have the proper training and education to fill in the gaps of knowledge that come with the introduction of new technology, in hopes that man and machine may work together to improve Edmonton’s manufacturing competitiveness on the world stage, well into the future.

Does your manufacturing business want to become more competitive? Contact our team at info@staging.enterpriseedmonton.com.

Background:

Close to 40% of Alberta’s manufacturing takes place in Edmonton. Our city is heavily invested in innovation, productivity, and enhanced production techniques, ensuring that local manufacturers are able to compete internationally against large export markets such as the United States.

Fittingly, Edmonton is home to the University of Alberta, which conducts focused research on productivity, weldability, automation, and performance, and works with Alberta Innovates and the Government of Alberta to support the Alberta Metal Fabrication Innovation Program (AMFI) and offer private sector opportunities that enhance efficiency, productivity, and competitiveness. The city also boasts the NAIT Shell Manufacturing Centre (NSMC), which provides productivity enhancement services and manufacturing solutions to small and medium businesses in Alberta to assist them in becoming globally competitive. NSMC also offers continuing education courses in robotics automation control, the likes of which strongly appeal to those who already have a designation in a related field, such as in electronics or in mechanical engineering, and who often happen to have an interest in robotics. As part of their manufacturing solutions, the NSCM offers services and conducts applied research to reverse the trend of low labour and capital productivity and to address chronic labour shortages in Alberta.

Further Reading:

·         City of Edmonton, Sector-Specific Industrial Attributes: Manufacturing – Metal Fabrication and Machinery Manufacturing http://www.edmonton.ca/business_economy/documents/Metal_Manufacturing_Sector.pdf

·         Deveau, Denise. Demand for robotics skills strong in modern industry (14 June 2014), The Edmonton Journal http://www2.canada.com/edmontonjournal/news/story.html?id=aa91871c-5614-4024-a01a-b238c344d3e8&p=1

·         Gu, Wulong and Jianmin Tang. The Link Between Innovation and Productivity in Canadian Manufacturing Industries, Working Paper Number 38 (November 2003), Industry Canada: https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/eas-aes.nsf/vwapj/wp38e.pdf/$file/wp38e.pdf

·         NAIT Shell Manufacturing Centre: Manufacturing Solutions Brochure http://www.nait.ca/docs/MS_Brochure_for_email.pdf.pdf

Enterprise Edmonton would like to thank Weldco-Beales Manufacturing for the information provided on welding robotics.

Join the conversation