Robotic process automation (RPA) is revolutionizing the manufacturing industry, but what does it mean for employees and businesses? Automation has been on the rise for several years, but RPA has been especially effective.
While it has been largely beneficial to everyone involved, there may be some negative side effects. Only time will tell exactly how the manufacturing industry integrates RPA for the long term, but trends can provide insight into the situation.
How is RPA being used in manufacturing?
Manufacturing professionals have found many uses for RPA in the industry. Robotics is most effective at automating tasks that are physically repetitive and time-consuming. The exact nature of these jobs varies from niche to niche, but examples may include placing bolts or screws, drilling holes, applying adhesives or coating, or assembling objects.
The manufacturing process has many facets that can be easily automated, though. RPA has been used for smart inventory tracking, automated bookkeeping and even customer service.
What are the benefits of RPA?
Despite the drawbacks of RPA, it truly does have some incredible benefits that can make a big impact on the manufacturing process. From faster production to improved customer satisfaction, RPA’s positive points can more than make up for its adverse side effects.
The global robotic process automation market was valued at $1.57 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 32.8 percent from 2021 to 2028, according to Grand View Research. A shift in company business operations due to the pandemic-induced work-from-home situation is expected to favor market growth over the forecast period.
One of the most common reasons manufacturers have for implementing RPA is improving productivity. An estimated 20 percent of human work hours are spent on repetitive tasks that could easily be performed by an RPA system instead. RPA can do these things quicker and with more consistency than employees can. This allows workers to be moved to jobs that are more engaging and rewarding instead.
Additionally, RPA can be used to automate things like resource and power management, making it easier to meet SEER energy rating goals and reduce waste production.
One area where RPA can improve productivity, as well as customer satisfaction, is quality control. Automated quality control can be achieved in various ways, such as using cameras and sensors to scan units as they go down the assembly line. This highly-efficient process leads to less waste and better quality consistency.
Safety is the most important factor around a manufacturing site, and RPA can improve the safety of working conditions. Repetitive tasks are often at higher risk of causing injury due to the repetitive use of certain muscles and the higher likelihood that employees will pay less attention to their work. Experts have found that using automation to improve safety can also increase productivity and efficiency.
What are the drawbacks of RPA?
Robotic process automation is popular within the manufacturing industry largely due to its positive impact on efficiency and productivity. What negative effects does it have, though?
Fewer manual labor positions needed
Some critics of automation have expressed fears that robots will “take over” human jobs. This concern is not unwarranted. The general idea is that since automated production can move quicker than manual, manufacturing plant owners will be hesitant to pay employees to do the same work at a likely slower pace.
While it is true that jobs reliant on repetitive physical tasks will likely be absorbed by automation, manufacturing employees can rest assured that many jobs are highly unlikely candidates for automation. It is important to note that increased demand for RPA equipment will create new jobs, such as robotics maintenance.
Cost of initial investment
The cost-saving capabilities of RPA are highly appealing for many manufacturers. However, RPA can be challenging for companies on tight budgets since it requires an initial investment in the automation and robotics equipment itself. Managers will also need to take time to train employees on how to use the new machinery and stay safe around it. This initial cost factor can be a challenge for some businesses.
RPA: Meeting in the middle
Robotic process automation has many potential benefits, but manufacturers will need to carefully weigh them against its downsides. When considering the cons of RPA, it is important to remember that drawbacks and advantages are potential, dependent on how individual manufacturers go about implementing the technology.
RPA integration does not need to result in employees being laid off. Workers can be promoted to new positions that they will probably find more rewarding than repetitive work. Even cost difficulties can be managed by implementing RPA one step or new robot at a time. Success requires a strategy with achievable goals while also pushing people to work safely and do their best.