Workforce Shortages Remain a Top Priority—And So Does Automation
Robots and Cobots Help Mitigate Labor Shortfalls and Boost Productivity
By Jorge Izquierdo, VP of Market Development, PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies
Staffing remains a major challenge for consumer packaged goods companies (CPGs) and OEMs alike. In fact, last year it was listed as their top priority, according to “Key Challenges for Packaging and Processing Operations,” a report published by PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies.
Hiring technically qualified personnel is especially challenging, and it’s likely this issue will last well beyond the current shortages and help spur a long-term competitive need to automate. So, it’s no surprise the second priority cited in the report is automation. Automation can not only reduce monotonous and physically demanding tasks, but it also can increase productivity—the third priority listed by respondents.
How automation makes a difference for OEMs and CPGs
Automation encompasses a range of technologies including digitalization, remote access, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things (IoT), and robots and cobots. In the first quarter of 2022, more robots were purchased than in any previous quarter, according to the Association for Advancing Automation (A3) with non-automotive segments continuing to outsell automotive, the traditional stronghold for robot applications. The 11,595 robots sold in the first quarter of 2022 represent a double-digit increase versus the fourth quarter of 2021, the previous best quarter on record.
As noted, robotics and automated solutions can mitigate labor shortages and increase flexibility, thereby boosting productivity and overcoming staffing issues. Because of this, 98% of OEMs now offer robotic-equipped systems, and robot and cobot usage is growing along the entire line, according to PMMI’s latest research in Robots & Cobots, An Automated Future, a white paper published in June 2022.
For CPGs, the installation of robotics can achieve multiple goals:
- Reduce labor and repetitive tasks
- Increase speed and productivity
- Achieve repeatable quality and consistent product handling
- Improve operator safety
- Minimize waste and human error
Expanded intelligence, mobility, and sensing capabilities are opening up new applications on packaging lines. Most CPGs (84%) have installed robots in their operations, and this number will rise to 93% in the next five years according to PMMI’s most recent research.
Cobot sales also will see strong growth with usage more than doubling from 27% in 2022 to 57% in 2027. Improvements in functionality such as vision, self-learning, and artificial intelligence will spur adoption. Cobots now have sensors for feedback, use hand movement-based guides for self-learning, and are more mobile.
Find solutions at PACK EXPO International
PACK EXPO International (Oct. 23-26, 2022; McCormick Place, Chicago) will provide dozens of opportunities to see robots and cobots in action performing processing and packaging tasks. Other robotic highlights of the show include the Future Innovators Robotics Showcase, where robotics teams from Chicago-area high schools showcase their design, engineering and troubleshooting skills. These solutions can help our industry adopt technology today as well as generate interest in manufacturing technology with younger workers—addressing all aspects of workforce and automation needs.
It is more important than ever that the packaging and processing industries come together to share insights and innovations, and the best place to do that is PACK EXPO International – the most comprehensive packaging and processing show in the world in 2022. From connecting with colleagues and hearing from experts to seeing new technologies, materials, and machinery-in-action, PACK EXPO International is the most efficient and effective way to discover packaging and processing solutions for over 40 vertical markets. No other event this year will showcase entire production line solutions and offer attendees everything needed to compete in a changing marketplace. For more information and to register, visit www.packexpointernational.com.
About the Author
Jorge Izquierdo is vice president of market development for PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies. He is a mechanical engineer, and oversees PMMI’s market development plans, research and programs for strengthening the competitiveness of North American suppliers of packaging and processing equipment. Download the PMMI report at: https://www.pmmi.org/report/2022-robotics-and-cobots-automated-future. For more information, visit www.pmmi.org.