At Sepro, this need manifest itself in utilization of its Live Support offerings, according to Healy. At Yushin, Caparco says more customers used its Yushin University program for remote training as well as seeking out virtual support and installations. During the pandemic, Yushin also began a virtual runoff process for new equipment. In the past, if a customer was able to, they’d come in and see the new automation system running before it was delivered. That has switched to a virtual happening, which is for the better in many ways. “The customer can see the equipment running, and we can have that interaction,” Caparco says. “Even though it’s not face to face, at least we’re doing it digitally and it’s easier for the customers. That’s something that going to stick around; I think we’re going to see a lot more of that.”
Covid Fades, Skills Gap Remains
So what happens when the black swan event of the pandemic slowly fades as vaccines and herd immunity take hold—will the economy let up on the gas pedal that accelerated automation adoption over the last year? Demographic changes say increased automation adoption is here to stay. Nearly 25% of the manufacturing workforce is age 55 or older, according to a July 2019 Manufacturing Institute report.
“There’s not a day that goes by when I haven’t called on a customer and very quickly out of their mouths is, ‘I can’t find people.’”
“Employers are likely to experience worker shortages, and may struggle to recruit entry-level employees and retain talented workers,” the Manufacturing Institute said in its 2019 report. “This, in turn, may lead to higher wages and salaries and accelerate the deployment of technology like robotics and artificial intelligence to boost worker productivity.”
That help isn’t to replace or obviate a human worker. “It’s not really trying to keep people out of work,” Long says, “it’s just that manufacturing is always down people,” a situation made worse by Covid. “We see a lot of companies looking at how can we introduce robots and automation just to keep things going that don’t need a hands-on person to do them.” This has been manifest with systems for tasks like checking or labeling parts, according to Long.
That effort is reinforced by what’s become a common conversation for Healy.