Waste-Stream Automation Combats Worker-Shortage Challenges

By: Mike Hook

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Automated stamping-scrap handling, such as the incorporation of a scrap load-out system as shown here, eliminates manual handling and its inherent safety and productivity risks, while optimizing monetary returns on recycling. And, it frees employees for other needed tasks.
Many North American metal forming, fabricating and machining plants find themselves busy these days, according to industrial supply company Grainger. In its 2018 online article, Metalworking Today: Three Trends to Watch, Grainger claimed that the combination of a healthy construction market and a solid economy are keeping work pipelines flowing and bottom lines strong for metal working operations.

But even the biggest business boom can bring its own set of unique challenges. For its most recent annual Metalworking Industry Report, Grainger collected hundreds of online surveys from key stakeholders who shared their perceptions of prevailing business conditions, identified their biggest challenges and described changes that are impacting individual companies within the industry. According to the Grainger report, 59 percent of metal working firms report a difficult time finding and retaining qualified employees, and 45 percent struggle with competency levels in their workforces.

Lift, a developer of advanced lightweight materials-manufacturing technologies, reported similar findings in its own 2018 online article, Help (Still) Wanted: Manufacturers Struggle to Fill Open Jobs. Lift cited a Plant Services magazine survey of more than 270 readers who were asked about their organizations’ biggest workforce challenges. More than 70 percent reported that finding skilled workers to fill open positions was their top challenge.

Industry experts offer several explanations for the increasing amount of open manufacturing positions as well as the shrinking number of qualified candidates available to fill those positions. Among the most significant are an aging workforce and a negative perception of manufacturing work.

Automation Offers Answers

No matter the reasons, lack of skilled labor is a real issue. That said, automation offers a real solution. Scrap-handling systems, fluid-recycling equipment and industrial water- and wastewater-treatment solutions offer automation opportunities that not only address the staffing issue but offer other advantages that directly benefit the bottom line.

Automated conveying equipment handles the transportation of metal scrap from the point of production through load-out with a minimal amount of employee involvement. Conveyors also reduce the need to staff an operation with forklift operators. This helps eliminate one of the most strenuous manual tasks in a metal working operation while improving the overall safety of the workplace. Both outcomes can contribute to employee attraction and retention while lowering labor-related costs.

Tramp-oil separators automatically remove free-floating and mechanically dispersed tramp oils, bacteria, slime, inverted emulsions and more from individual machine sumps, central systems and wash tanks. This equipment eliminates the need for employees to manually vacuum oil from the rinse tanks, and can reduce tramp oil to less than 1 percent in a single pass. Additional benefits include reducing new-fluid purchase costs by as much as 75 percent and reducing hazardous waste volumes to 90 percent.

For metal formers employing machining operations, a crusher/wringer system such as this reduces the volume of large bundles and stringy turnings. Such equipment delivers dry, shovel-grade chips and reclaims as much as 99 percent of coolants and cutting oils.

Mechanical or automatic hydraulic dumpers help simplify cart unloading, resulting in an efficient one-person operation that involves using a handheld control for equipment operation.

Load-out systems complete the scrap handling process by moving metal scrap to distribution bins for transport to the recycler. These systems provide efficient, automated, and even filling, allowing for maximum use of container space and maximum value from the recycler.

Chip-processing systems automate the process of reducing turnings and bushy wads to flowable, shovel-grade chips while separating scrap from fluid. Vertical axis crushers, for example, maximize labor allocation by providing continuous, positive feed operation and automatically removing occasional solids to prevent equipment damage.

All of these systems improve productivity by freeing workers to focus on production and throughput. They also reduce the potential for dangerous contact with sharp metal material and minimize environmental risks. And, they position an operation to receive maximum value from scrap-metal recycling, and provide the opportunity to reuse spent coolant.

Modern equipment provided for conveying, scrap handling, fluid recycling and water/wastewater treatment, also delivers maximum uptime with low maintenance. This eliminates the need to overstaff maintenance technicians, and helps maintain process productivity.

Mind Waste Streams When Assessing Productivity

Productivity improvements in today’s manufacturing plants typically arise through evaluation of production equipment, operating procedures and production-labor allocations. Continuous improvement in this area also should include waste streams, which offer several opportunities to address skilled-worker staffing. To keep a production line flowing safely and efficiently, it is important to gain the efficiencies, dependability and repeatability of automated equipment. The goal: not to put people out of work but to retain qualified employees and minimize the impact of a shrinking workforce.

Working with an experienced equipment and systems provider to automate systems throughout a process can help metal working plants thrive in an environment where attracting and retaining qualified employees continues to be a challenge. MF


See also: PRAB, Inc.

Related Enterprise Zones: Automation

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