History books are really hindsight books, but there are times we can see history in the making. The Fifth Wave of Manufacturing is not just a clever hook, it is coming true right in front of our eyes.
On top of the wave are solutions to the foundational problem of people power. Not enough people want to go into manufacturing and work their way up from the ground (shop) floor. They have their reasons, and the historical shop career trajectory is one reason. We can show how the conditions have changed dramatically, pay has increased, and real opportunities to advance exist. However, at times one senses suspicion on the part of potential employees.
We are faced with an employment gap, hence a gap in a manufacturing company’s ability to deliver the goods. Two forces are coming from opposite sides of the problem to make it a much smaller concern. From the side that moves toward the future, it is a new raft of automation solutions. From the human perspective, it is education in manufacturing.
More manufacturing applications ahead
Robotics burst into manufacturing areas like assembly line welding a long time ago. But cobot-based welding is one of the first Fifth Wave applications, as is palletizing. The robot vendors are rightfully proud of palletizing performance, and it seems to fit the dull, dirty, and dangerous aspects of work that define robots’ entry point into the work world. Pick and place is another sort of dull (and maybe dirty, but probably not dangerous) application, doing what Lucy Riccardo could not do to manage an increasing stream of things coming down a conveyor belt.
Some other applications are more exciting to the metal manufacturing community, like machine tending or grinding. Robots are even coming to assembly; robo-screwdrivers and other robo-tools will come to an assembly business near you, and soon. Watch for other areas to open for the robots. The ability to perform manufacturing applications will be a divide-and-conquer operation, not an all-out, one-size-fits-all blitz.
More floor space for people and processes
Robot vendors are busy planning for the next few years, with a very good example being Yaskawa Motoman, which company will have a fresh, new, additional 185,000 square feet by this time next year.
Colleges and universities also are planning new facilities to teach manufacturing to the up and comers. We will provide more coverage of that as time goes on. Suffice it to say that these are exciting times and schools are getting in at the front end of the wave.