The Human Factor: Sophisticated Equipment Requires Sophisticated Employees

By Joe Erb and John Ryba

Is “implement automated equipment” on your list of New Year’s resolutions for 2023? There are plenty of reasons why door and window manufacturers have continued to embrace automation over the past several years. While the ability to produce more units faster has traditionally been the main driver, time has proven that there are many other benefits, no matter the size of your operation, but only if you have the right strategies and skill sets in place to get the most out of your investment. Conventional thinking may be that robotics and automation usurp the need for human input and labor, but, in many ways, the opposite is true. Getting the most out of automated equipment requires more sophisticated human thinking than ever before.

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Finding success with automated equipment begins with preparation for how your everyday production activities will change. It’s likely your equipment supplier will provide some initial support as the equipment is installed. They’ll show you and your teams the basics for how it works, best practices for regular routine maintenance and other tips and tricks, but soon they’ll be gone and you’ll be on your own when it comes to production.

If you’re a larger manufacturer with experience in automated lines and other equipment, this may not be a big deal. But if you’re a small- to midsize-manufacturer who is looking to take the next step with automated equipment, knowing what to do in the weeks and months ahead may pose a challenge. For example, ongoing maintenance of automated equipment is critical to maintaining the levels of consistent, quality production you’re likely expecting. Do you know the types of maintenance indicators to look for once you hit six, eight or twelve weeks out from initial installation? Maintenance lapses can lead to worn-out components, quality control issues and tough questions, leading you to ask, “Why isn’t my $2 million investment doing what I expected?”

The solution? Work ahead to build the skillsets needed to maximize an investment in automated production equipment.

What sorts of skills are necessary? Many of them are the same as they’ve always been: adaptability, open-mindedness and a willingness to learn. But on today’s and tomorrow’s plant floors, it’s more important than ever that people are well-rounded and tech-savvy. New automated systems typically come with opportunities to implement software and sensors that can help you deepen your insight into production activities and drive even greater efficiencies. To make the most of it, you need people who bring new kinds of knowledge to the table.

All of this presents not just an opportunity for you to find success in a changing marketplace, but for all of us in the fenestration industry to collectively advocate for modern manufacturing as a career path that offers growth and promise for young professionals.

In the end, investing in automation isn’t only about equipment. It’s about people.

Joe Erb is national account manager and John Ryba is technical
services manager for Quanex Corp.

To view the laid-in version of this article in our digital edition, CLICK HERE.

DWM Magazine

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