A Baldor marketing official told a roomful of manufacturing executives and leaders that although the use of robots is growing rapidly as part of the industrial giant’s operations, not one has ever replaced a human worker.
“Everybody thinks we use them to replace people,” said Chris Hoyle, general product manager at Fort Smith-based Baldor Electric Co. “But we have not laid off one person because of a robot.”
Hoyle was one of four members in a panel discussion on advanced manufacturing technology Wednesday at the Arkansas Manufacturing Innovation Summit in North Little Rock. Other members of the panel discussed manufacturing advances in 3-D printing, solar power and nanotechnology.
Hoyle said Baldor, which is part of Switzerland-based industrial power and automation group ABB Ltd., said the key role that robots play in the company’s manufacturing process is improving safety, productivity and quality costs.
He said Baldor’s electric motor division has recently implemented robotics across most its entire electric motor operations, which includes the 1,150-employee manufacturing plant in Fort Smith. At first, he said, there was trepidation among some employees who thought that the robots would take their jobs.
“It may have affected us on the hiring end, but we have not lost any employees because of this move,” Hoyle said during his presentation at the two-day manufacturing summit.
Following the panel discussion, Hoyle told Talk Business & Politics that robots are mainly used in the Fort Smith operations for “moving and lifting” heavy motor parts from one location to the next. To date, the company uses six robots at its facility that produces 500 electric motors each day.
“It has been a huge benefit to us for a variety of reasons,” Hoyle said. “We are more efficient and safe, and our quality is a whole lot better because of robotics.”
Besides improving manufacturing efficiencies, safety and helping to control costs, Hoyle said there were also some downsides the company has had to overcome when implementing robotics into the manufacturing process. He said it was difficult getting up to speed in some of the plant locations because they could not find the technical resources or people with the technical skills to operate them.
“We had a terribly hard time finding the right resources to implement robots at our plants,” he said, adding that Baldor now has a three to five-year strategy for implementing the company’s robotics programs.
Other panelists who also participated in the advanced manufacturing discussion included Geoff Shorts, manager of components at Central Moloney 3-D Print; Douglas Hutchings, CEO of Silicon Solar Solutions LLC; and James Phillips, Chairman and CEO of Fayetteville-based NanoMech.
Each panelist gave a 15-minute presentation of their company’s expertise, and explained how advanced manufacturing technology is changing their particular industry.
To view a demonstration of Baldor’s robot fleet, watch the video below.