14 Jun 2024

Robots help to address workforce shortages

ABB YuMi cobots alleviate workforce shortages for aluminum supplier

ABB says its YuMi cobots are enabling the reshoring of production and helping to address challenges presented by workforce shortages for SUS Corporation, a major supplier of aluminium frames and die-cast aluminium components for the automotive and other manufacturing industries.

“Reshoring is increasingly viewed as a way to address the challenges of disruptive supply chains and uncertainty, but it can introduce complexities of its own,” said Joerg Reger, Managing Director of ABB Robotics Automotive Business Line. “Our range of flexible automation solutions can help resolve these, and we’re delighted to see that SUS is benefiting from significant time-savings, enhanced production efficiency and the ability to quickly adapt to changing supply scenarios. This demonstrates how automation is no longer the preserve of large OEMs alone.”

In the wake of significant disruption to global supply chains in recent years, SUS Corporation chose to return to domestic production in Shizuoka, Japan to better manage its lead times and introduce greater flexibility. However, the manual and repetitive nature of the production process, coupled with mounting labour shortages, has made it difficult for the company to recruit and retain sufficient workers to achieve the required production volumes.

The solution – a series of YuMi dual-armed collaborative robots – has reportedly reduced the assembly time, increased productivity by 20%, and introduced much-needed flexibility in response to fluctuations in demand. The company expects to achieve payback on its investment within two years.

The automated solution was developed using ABB’s RobotStudio simulation software to design and optimise the operation in a virtual space, ahead of deployment in the real world. The simulation verified that YuMi’s seven-axes of movement per arm were able to replicate the complex twisting actions needed during the assembly process.

RobotStudio’s accurate calculations for achievable production volumes also made it easy for SUS to make informed decisions about their investment. The company is now investigating adding further cells for other products and automating other processes.

“The robots have taken on monotonous, repetitive jobs, enabling workers to be reassigned to more rewarding tasks such as operation management. The new system has also made it possible to operate at night with fewer workers, with the number of dedicated assembly machines in operation reduced from 11 to five,” said Akihiro Taki, Team Manager, Die-casting Team, at SUS Corporation’s Shizuoka site.

ABB’s recent Automotive Manufacturing Outlook Survey discovered that nearly a third (31%) of all respondents listed labour shortages among their top three challenges, while 35% ranked labour as their most concerning area when it came to rising costs.

Company info: ABB Robotics UK