Published on Thursday, November 18th, 2021 in Investment in Automation

Robotic Grinding – An Automated Process Solution for the Labour Shortage Crisis

The current labour shortage crisis in the manufacturing sector can be a boon in the coming years. According to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics report, 800,000 vacancies have created a vacuum in the US manufacturing industry. At the same time, jobs such as grinding are dealing with the issue of recruiting manual workers. While health hazards associated with the task are a significant contributor, factors like the aging population of a country or the non-availability of skilled laborers are among the main reasons for the recorded shortage. This is the reason more and more companies turn to automation and robotics to address the issue. 

As the world embraces the power of AI and Machine Learning, implementing an automated process for heavy industry work can help with the current labour shortage situation. Some of its benefits include freeing up the supply chains that deal with piled-up work and safeguarding a company’s operations, among others. 

In the case of the grinding machinery industry, it is estimated to reach USD 5.6 Billion by 2027. In addition, the robotic process automation industry will be worth USD 13.74 Billion by 2028. Considering these two critical facts, we can say that manufacturing companies are ready for a change, and automating tasks like grinding is the right approach because it is safe, less time-consuming, and more cost-efficient for your organization. 

Let’s dive into the most common challenges related to manual grinding and how automation can solve them:

Manual grinding challenges

Manual grinding is one of the most common and high-risk manufacturing roles. It is associated with many hindrances to the organization’s productivity and requires significant investments in training employees to be efficient. 

Let’s take the example of weld grinding, which demands consistency and quality from the workers to achieve the targeted results. The process involves using powerful and sometimes heavy tools, such as angle grinders that a worker must operate aesthetically all day long. It needs patience and constant quality checks as fewer and fewer employees struggle to keep up with increasing production volumes. Hence, the entire production step easily becomes unproductive and will yield minimum results. 

Furthermore, manual grinding is prone to many health hazards, which can be avoided by switching to an automated process. Some common reasons for a mishap to occur while grinding manually are: 

1. Wearing poor quality PPE kits

Not wearing the right quality PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) kit is one of the main reasons for accidents. The kit should include a leather apron, face guard, safety glasses, gloves, or steel toe boots. If you miss any of these in your equipment, this may result in severe injuries like burn marks, loss of eyesight, and more. 

2. Unprotected grinding

Unprotected grinding may lead to workers inhaling harmful elements like cadmium, cobalt, and nickel. They enter the lungs and damage the tissues slowly by scarring. As a result, employees will develop severe breathing issues that may turn out to be fatal later. 

3. Disregarding Safety 

It is perhaps one of the most common reasons for injuries caused during manual grinding. Not wearing the right gears or entirely skipping on reading the instruction manuals that highlight safety are habits that can truly undermine months of training. Some of the wrong practices include removing the safety cover from the equipment, not going by the tool’s recommended speed of operation, or selecting an incorrect wheel for grinding. 

Secondly, when workers don’t use a welding helmet or safety googles during dry grinding, they’re essentially risking their eyesight in the long run. Since dust, splinters, and polishing agents may enter eyes, they can cause irreparable damage. 

4. Lack of Training

For inexperienced employees, it’s common to make mistakes. However, some of them could be life-threatening. The typical errors made by new employees include using the wrong side of the wheel, putting too much pressure on the tool, or using forceful techniques to grind.

Hence, an informative module designed to educate new joinees, such as technical training and workshops on safety measures, is the solution to avoid these errors. 

While these issues are a part of on-the-job hazards that make manual grinding dangerous, a few more factors can also result in a high attrition rate and cause delays in the manufacturing systems.

These problems majorly revolve around an employees’ mental state and relationship with the employer. For instance, if labourers don’t feel a sense of belonging at work, productivity will be impacted, and eventually, this will lead to production delays. Secondly, if the stature of their job isn’t high enough, it will dissuade the workers from putting in wholehearted efforts. Furthermore, if the company isn’t paying enough salary despite the extra effort required to complete a job like grinding, they get more reasons to quit. In Canada, the manufacturing sector has the lowest median salary, and 71% of the workers in the industry, who changed their profession, received a substantial increment in pay on their new job. 

Robotic automation as a solution

Technological evolution and the developments in the automated process of getting work done have improved safety standards everywhere where automation has been implemented. It has provided companies with a breather from injuries that cause monetary damages in millions. All the safety regulations have been standardized and technology made available for years ago and are well used today in material handling, machine tending, and welding – and to be noted – also in grinding, deburring, and polishing the same benefits are available.

Organizations worldwide are readily deploying automation due to the numerous benefits that come along with robotic grinding and material removal procedures. Robotic grinding, as compared to manual techniques, provides a more adaptable and simplified method of improving operations.

Why is using automated grinding more profitable in the long run?

As manufacturers strive for improved productivity and quality, they have shifted their focus to grinding automation to take care of dirty, dangerous, and dull aspects of production for numerous tasks. Here are some of the main reasons why automated grinding is more profitable in the long run: 

1. Improved time efficiency and output

Compared to manual grinding, automated tools can perform tasks like grinding, cutting, or milling, with a higher tool-on-contact time ratio and with optimized parameters sets. Since an automated process doesn’t require a lunch break or a sick leave, they can also work for long hours and improve the production rate significantly. It can be assumed that overall productivity will improve by a factor of 3.5 per each installed robot. 

2. A safer alternative

A robotic machine is not only cost-efficient for the company but also protects workers from accidents. As per the U.S. Department of Labour’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, organisations average expense on workers’ injury and illness is approximately USD 170 Billion a year. However, organizations can reduce this cost by approximately 20-40% with the help of automation. The benefits also include fewer sick leaves, which in turn mean more available productive man-hours for supportive operations in general.

3. Increased ROI

Efficient process, speed, and quality of the output are the three essential factors to measure the success rate of your robotic grinding machine. They perform faster than humans at a constant speed for several hours. As a result, the total tool-on-contact time is 3x to 5x higher than manual grinding. Since the automation forces a certain level of tolerances for the whole production chain, there is a reduction in scrapped parts and overall wastage. Automation and robotics also allow manufacturers to achieve short payback time for investments. Hence, at the end of the day, an organisation is saving operational costs and increasing its output rate, which accelerates the ROI and increases the EBITA.

4. Smoother workflow

Manual grinding requires constant quality checks since humans cannot maintain uniformity across several products. Wherein if you automate the process, there is practically no need to check the output standards, which improves your takt time. Therefore, with robotic grinding, you can eliminate certain steps that take manually long hours to finish and stall production. 

5. Greater adaptability

Sometimes the manufacturer receives orders for customized work. The labourers may require additional skill sets to fulfil distinct requirements. In that case, training an employee to learn a specific new technique is an unproductive approach. However, a robotic machine only needs reprogramming to perform the same task efficiently and in a stipulated time frame. High Mix Low volume-type of production is very much possible with the robots.

In Conclusion

Solving the labour shortage problem with the help of robotic automation will help your organization revolutionize its traditional operating systems that are less efficient. One significant improvement is that the status of the grinding work changes from raw muscle-powered action to brain-powered supervision. 

When you think of grinding automation, a major factor to consider is your employees’ safety as well. Even though cost-efficiency and productivity are essential, safeguarding your workers from mishaps makes a very strong case to shift to an automated process. 

The automation and robotics industry has come a long way in developing state-of-the-art tools and solutions. Implementing this technology for grinding can be associated with some challenges, but ultimately its benefits will weigh by creating a safer work environment and higher efficiency for the manufacturers.

Contact Flexmill for the most advanced grinding robots with a patented, fully automatic tool-change!


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