How to Merge Automated Machinery with Your Current Workforce - Force Design

How to Merge Automated Machinery with Your Current Workforce



As a manufacturer, you may be considering integrating robotics and other automated machinery into your current facility in order to remain competitive or diversify production. While the transition can appear difficult and overwhelming, with planning and careful implementation, it doesn’t have to be. 

The proactive steps outlined here will give you an effective strategy to introduce your existing team to the new machinery and successfully streamline your operations. 

Start By Defining Your Needs

The first step is to define your goals for an automation project. Start with the big picture including the current workforce and their existing skills, areas of production that consistently have quality control issues or get backed up, and what you hope to gain by automating parts of your facility. Consider what type(s) of work you hope to automate. 

In addition to what challenges and needs you observe in your facility, it is helpful to speak with employees about their daily work to learn where inefficiencies and obstacles exist. They are very familiar with the small, tedious, and repetitive tasks of specific jobs that managers or supervisors may miss. As a result they may be able to point out problems or potential solutions that would maximize their productivity during each shift.

It’s critical to identify the scope of the project early and then stick with it. Brainstorming and dreaming big are great initially, but it’s usually best to narrow the focus to a single, well-defined project. For example, while your long term goal may be to work toward a fully automated production line, most manufacturers are better off automating just one area of production, such as end of line inspection, packaging, or even a single welding cell and expanding over time. Try to avoid the temptation to add on seemingly minor or simple “extras” if they do not contribute directly to your primary goal and project scope. 

Research Your Options

Once you have a clear understanding of your needs, you can begin to look for the right partner to work with. Do your research, speak with multiple integrators, and be sure to look at examples of their work. Adding automation and robotic equipment to your facility requires good communication and trust, so you’ll want to find someone with whom you and your employees can build a good working relationship.

Another tip for success is to remember that your expertise lies in your manufacturing process. In other words, don’t be concerned with figuring out which specific pieces of equipment are needed or how to design the new system. That’s your integrator’s role. An experienced integrator, like Force Design, will be able to take your manufacturing goals and determine the details of how to get there. This applies to both off-the-shelf solutions as well as entirely custom systems. 

Train Your Employees 

Employee buy-in is the key to long term success with automated manufacturing. Management and other decision-makers may be excited about new robotic and automation equipment, but it’s important to consider the range of reactions employees will have to it. After all, they are the ones who will use the equipment daily. Some will probably be excited and eager to use high tech machinery. Others may fear for their jobs and livelihood. Still others may be concerned about safety on the job

Everyone involved must understand that automation doesn’t necessarily eliminate jobs. More often the nature of work changes instead. Most workers will still have an important job to do, though now it may be overseeing a bank of machines, keeping the in- and outflow of parts going, or troubleshooting instead of doing the actual task, which the robot or other automated system is now doing. As skilled workers, their knowledge of the base task is still needed because they can spot problems that need to be adjusted.

Once the equipment is in place, it’s time for training. Communicate expectations for the equipment and its use early, so employees have time to “wrap their heads around” the coming change to their work. Also share with them:

  • Which operations, stations, or areas of the facility will be affected (including those that come before or after the new equipment)
  • When the automated machinery will be implemented
  • Which person(s) will be interacting with it the most 
  • How this new machinery will influence current processes
  • What the team needs to do to prepare for its arrival 

Implement the Change Gradually

As people are often creatures of habit, businesses prove to often be the same. Major changes have the potential to disrupt operations more than improve their efficiency at first. Robotics and automation have a large impact on workplace culture, and it’s in your best interest to prepare for the shift (learn more here). 

It’s not generally possible to alternate between your new automated systems and previous manual ones once they’re up and running, so the changes will be definitive and absolute. But you can still prepare employees for the coming changes in advance and stay patient as they adjust. This will help smooth the transition, ensure worker safety, and minimize disruptions to productivity. For example, it takes some employees more time than others to build familiarity and comfort with equipment that uses an app or touchscreen. Pairing those who struggle with a partner can be a great way to build confidence gradually.

Consider designating someone as the point-of-contact for the new machinery to help educate other employees and reinforce new skills and tasks. This in-house “cheerleader” for the new system increases employees’ confidence because they know someone on their team can support them as they acclimate. 

Monitor Progress 

Most automated systems will include software or an app to monitor the details of production. Running reports on machine uptime per shift or other measurable goals gives an objective picture of how well the new process is working. However, it is just as important to check in regularly with employees about how the transition is going, finding out what problems they may have with certain operations, or other questions. This will help to ensure that the transition is going smoothly and that everyone is adjusting well to the new equipment. 

There will inevitably be some challenges along the way, so it’s important to be prepared for them. Have a plan in place for how you will deal with disruptions or problems that arise. This will help to keep things running smoothly and minimize any negative impact on your production goals. Your integrator is an excellent resource for fine tuning or lingering issues with the equipment, so be sure to keep them in the loop.

Get Custom Automation Solutions for Your Manufacturing Business 

Whether you are just beginning to explore automation for your facility, or you’re adding to existing automated systems, working with an automation integrator is a smart choice. You can learn more about the process and read our top tips in our ebook.  

At Force Design, we design, build, and install custom automation and robotic solutions for manufacturers like you. Working from our southwest Ohio facility, our team of engineers and designers brings decades of manufacturing experience to every new project. We start by learning about your specific goals and then develop automated solutions to meet them.
To learn more about implementing custom automation for your own manufacturing business, contact us today or use our free ROI Calculator to see what automation can do for you!


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How Much Does This Cost? Find Out!

Check out a recent case study with all the details to find out what custom robotic automation equipment really means for businesses like yours. Enter your name and email below, and we’ll send it straight to your inbox.

How Much Does This Cost? Find Out!

Check out a recent case study with all the details to find out what custom robotic automation equipment really means for businesses like yours. Enter your name and email below, and we’ll send it straight to your inbox.