The future of manufacturing starts now! At BOSTONtec, we are excited to welcome a new addition to our welding team – a collaborative robot. We sat down with our Director of Manufacturing Operations Tom Stoney and Director of Finance and Accounting John Zaremba to gain insights into this strategic development.
What is behind the decision of acquiring a collaborative robot?
Tom Stoney: We had a hard time finding skilled workers, in particular skilled welders. The industry is seeing a continuously diminishing skilled labor pool. We looked at various avenues such as fully automated robotic welders, outsourcing, and a hybrid approach that combines robotic technology with human operators. We decided on the hybrid setup in which an operator works together with the robotic welding arm, also known as co-bot.
What is a co-bot? What is the difference between a co-bot and a robot?
Tom Stoney: A co-bot is designed to work alongside human operators in a shared workspace. They are equipped with advanced sensors and safety features.
Our co-bot runs off an iPad with an intuitive user interface. The operator doesn’t need to be a trained welder. It could be anyone who is comfortable using a tablet. That really helps us with the shortage of skilled labor because it eliminates the requirement for operator specialization.
It takes a skilled welder to set up the initial programs for different components. After that, the operator places the part, selects the program based on the paperwork, pushes the button to initiate the process, and removes the finished piece. It is as simple as that.
John Zaremba: A full-blown robot, on the other hand, is often programmed to operate autonomously without human interaction. They might need to be confined within physical enclosures due to safety concerns. We would have to hire skilled robotic welding engineers to run them.
What are the features or capabilities we are looking for in the co-bot?
John Zaremba: First and foremost, safety. Since the co-bot works in close proximity to our operators, it has to have advanced safety features such as sensors and an automatic shutdown mechanism. If you accidentally bump it, it will deactivate itself immediately. Secondly, it needs to be user-friendly and simple to operate. Naturally, another key criterion is the consistent delivery of high-quality welds.
How does the co-bot fit into our work process?
Tom Stoney: The welding team identifies assignments that can be streamlined for the co-bot. Currently, the co-bot is taking on standardized, highly repetitive, and high-volume welding tasks such as workstation feet. This allows our skilled welders to focus their expertise on larger and more complex components.
What benefits can the co-bot bring to BOSTONtec’s customers and employees?
John Zaremba: A significant advantage for our customers lies in our ability to consistently meet specified lead times. Achieving this goal when we didn’t have enough skilled welders has really put a strain on our processes and operations. In the industry, a lot of companies were moving toward automation as a solution to their labor force limitations.
The introduction of the co-bot will ensure our ability to keep the tight lead times while enhancing the quality of our products.
Tom Stoney: In consideration of our workforce, we don’t want to eliminate jobs. Instead, we want to make sure that our skilled welders feel appreciated.
Our goal is to free them from repetitive, monotonous welding tasks that once dominated their schedules. They will have more opportunities to be creative and tackle more significant responsibilities. At the same time, it will improve the ergonomics at work for them by reducing repetitive motions.
The co-bot is thus very well received among our employees, including the tenure workers.
What’s our plan for the future?
Tom Stoney: We are still in the launch phase for the co-bot. Things are ramping up. We are learning how to program and how to integrate co-bot seamlessly into the workflow. If the initial project rolls out well, we will be looking at acquiring more co-bots. There is enough work out there in the shop to keep them busy.
John Zaremba: We will also be exploring the feasibility of implementing co-bots in other areas of operations where they will make sense.
As we continue to grow, there will come a time when increasing our capacity becomes essential. The integration of automation could be part of the solution to ensure our timely delivery of high-quality products to our customers.