July 06, 2018
A Lesson from the History of Automation
by Guest Blogger
Something caught my attention while reading a short recap of this year’s FENSTERBAU FRONTALE show in Germany from Window & Door magazine. Check out the quote below:
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Machinery suppliers splayed their robots and technology across numerous aisles and rows; with automation for nearly every process. Why this struck me is that the status of labor is not the talk of the German towns as it is in the U.S., where skilled labor dominates the conversation in every corner of the industry. I was able to see automation in its original light, designed for efficiency and maintaining high standards of quality.
The bolded portion is an interesting point to think about, considering how automated equipment for fenestration manufacturing has proliferated in North America as businesses attempt to grow amidst a challenging labor shortage.
Vertical insulating glass production lines, for instance, indeed have their roots abroad, with European manufacturers traditionally operating in more compact spaces than their more sprawling American counterparts. Ten years ago, we spoke of “European vertical lines,” but today, the regional qualifier is no longer relevant or necessary. The efficiencies of quality and consistency realized with such equipment proved to have worldwide appeal.
It’s true that one of the most appealing benefits of vertical lines, when they first gained real traction in North America, involved labor benefits. American manufacturers struggling with retention and turnover invested in the new equipment to maintain and boost production rates, and they have been able to allocate their best employees to high-value tasks on the plant floor. Undoubtedly, the labor shortage continues to spur that investment today.
But automation’s “original light,” as noted by Window & Door, shouldn’t be forgotten. Automation enables us to work more efficiently, with greater attention to quality and consistency, than ever before. It’s elevated what’s possible in our industry, and has allowed us to meet greater demand and push boundaries in both residential and commercial window and glass design.
Manufacturers committed to continuous improvement shouldn’t solely view automation as a way around labor challenges. We must be thinking critically about how automation can be integrated for total operational improvement. As manufacturing on the broad scale transitions toward Industry 4.0, we need to be looking forward to how all available new technology can help us position ourselves for ongoing and long-lasting success.
Questions or comments? Contact me directly at Larry.Johnson@Quanex.com.