You’ve heard about artificial intelligence (AI), right?

Of course, you have. It’s just about everywhere, and even graced the digital pages of [DWM] earlier this month. You’ve probably also seen some of the anxiety this technology has raised over its potential impact on white-collar jobs.

But this blog isn’t about AI. Because, as a manufacturing professional, you’re already well aware of the perception of technological change on the shop floor. Automation has had profound and overwhelmingly positive impacts for window manufacturers. And you know what? We still need talented people operating those machines. And that brings us to today’s tip:

Frame your investment in automation the right way.

Many manufacturers continue to make investments in automation—whether it’s applied to ancillary processes or full, high-speed lines—both for the new efficiencies these technologies can bring to our operations, and for their ability to help us do more with less.

But for plant workers these investments can be perceived the wrong way. “Robots are taking our jobs,” isn’t an attitude you want flourishing on the floor, and today’s successful glass shops need to be getting in front of it. It’s part of why fenestration professionals must be continuously engaging and investing in their workforces.

Any automation is best framed as an investment in both operational efficiency and in our workforces—with an emphasis on the workforce. Because no matter where we’re applying automated technology, it always has numerous human benefits.

We can allocate workers to more specialized, skilled tasks. We can eliminate repetitious, ergonomically taxing procedures by letting a robot take care of them. We can reduce the risks associated with tasks, such as glass cutting and insulating glass assembly, by automating them. That’s what investing in the workforce means—it’s providing workers the skills and the tools necessary to do their jobs better.

Sometimes it takes seeing the benefits in action. It’s natural for a workforce to be skeptical of automated processes taking over human tasks. But glass manufacturers who have gone through the process of implementing an automated line—and who’ve taken the time for proper training and to communicate the benefits—typically report high rates of employee satisfaction with the new technology.

There may come a time when you’ll need to approach AI with this same attitude. But no matter what, the successful door and window shop of the future will be filled with employees who know how to best implement the right technology—no matter what it is—to drive increased success.

John Ryba is Technical Services Manager for Quanex. Joe Erb is a national account manager for Quanex.

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