A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm – First Law of Robotics, Isaac Asimov, Author of ‘I, Robot’
by Gladys Johnsen – Over the last several decades, the introduction of automated production lines and robotics has become commonplace in most food processing and manufacturing facilities. From basic conveying systems, to complex robotic cells, the ability to produce goods at high speed and accuracy have allowed North American companies to compete in a world of global trade.
Rick Gibbs, President of Neutron Factory Works, believes that automation allows companies to grow through increased production and consistent quality while improving the health and safety of the workers.
Neutron specializes in the installation and maintenance of equipment in manufacturing, processing and warehousing facilities.
The implementation of robotics has decreased worker exposure to hazardous environments and shielded operations staff against unsafe or repetitive tasks, such as welding and heavy lifting. Automation may initially reduce the number of entry-level, low-skilled jobs, however, over the medium to long-term, automation creates new demand for technically-competent operators, maintenance, inspection, and logistics roles.
“Generally, after companies automate, they employ more staff than when they started due to an enhanced competitive position overall” says Gibbs.
Nonetheless, a movement to automation alone is not a guarantee of a safer workplace. One of the biggest challenges Rick and his team see for companies importing automated equipment into Canada is related to Safety;
It can be very costly to upgrade equipment to Canadian standards, which are some of the highest in the world. Safety is the centrepiece of these standards. While the low sticker price of imported equipment may seem like an attractive choice, the liability, safety hazards and subsequent costs to bring the equipment up to domestic standards can quickly outweigh any perceived windfall.
– Rick Gibbs, President, Neutron Factory Works
The primary hazard from automated and robotic equipment is motion. Whereas humans can always maintain an awareness of surroundings, robotics simply follow a preprogrammed routine. Without effective safety integration and design, these robotic systems can start and continue to run, creating a dangerous, or even lethal environment to humans. Consequently, the human operator needs to understand how to safely stop and restart machinery, as well as knowing where to stand to avoid injury or exposure. “Including your company’s health and safety representative in the planning stages for new equipment ensures policies reflecting the new process are updated and workers are appropriately trained,” says Rick. “Involving your team in the decisions to introduce robotics and automation is always a good idea.”
Good planning and training will ensure that new production processes will meet the needs of the company, its workers and clients.