Are smart technologies the answer to the manufacturing labour shortage?

Rockwell Automation Australia

Tuesday, 02 April, 2024

Are smart technologies the answer to the manufacturing labour shortage?

Due to labour shortages, Australian businesses are looking elsewhere to address the gaps in manufacturing processes. Rockwell Automation has released its 2024 State of Smart Manufacturing Report (SoSM) which cites automation and robotics as a way to address the labour gap.

The global study found from the respondents from Australia and New Zealand that 33% of the companies are piloting robotics implementations with another 23% at the planning stage. A significant 40% of the companies in Australia and New Zealand surveyed have already implemented robotics at scale.

The Australian Government’s latest Jobs and Skills Priority List highlights significant shortages of production engineers, software engineers, industrial engineers, mechanical engineers and electrical engineers. Given the lack of adequate human resources, a higher level of automation is a way for manufacturers to keep plants operating while also planning for growth.

Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)

One of the key building blocks in the transition to greater automation is IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things), which enables connected devices on the network to transfer data without human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction. In Australia and New Zealand, 30% of the companies surveyed have already implemented IIoT at scale with 60% piloting solutions or working on implementation plans.

This bodes well for the future of local manufacturing as IIoT can enhance efficiency and enable predictive maintenance and data-driven decision-making in industrial processes. While Australia and New Zealand may seem to be making significant strides in this area with a 30% implementation rate, the number pales in comparison to IIoT implementations in China (51%), Canada (41%) and India (48%).

The NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) defines smart manufacturing as: fully integrated, collaborative manufacturing systems that respond in real time to meet changing demands and conditions in the factory, in the supply network and in customer needs. Australia’s rate of smart manufacturing adoption may come as a surprise to some, but the SoSM Report reveals that a healthy 44% of Australia and New Zealand survey respondents have already adopted this technology in full or in part.

Smart manufacturing is also gaining attention at the highest levels of the Australian Government. In November 2023, the House Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Resources noted that “the notion that Australian-made products cannot compete with foreign alternatives is now outdated. With advanced manufacturing processes and techniques, particularly Industry 4.0 technologies, Australian manufacturing can be globally competitive — including on cost.”

“Smart manufacturing is complex and could entail high upfront costs, so manufacturers should develop a long-term strategy and work with credible experienced partners,” said Anthony Wong, regional director, South Pacific, Rockwell Automation. “The benefits are significant as a smart factory can autonomously run entire production processes, maximising efficiency while reducing costs.”

Seeking a productivity boost in the face of labour shortages, Australian manufacturers are turning to robots and more specifically, collaborative robots (cobots) which work alongside humans to perform intricate assembly processes or complex material handling tasks.

The SoSM Report notes that 34% of Australia and New Zealand survey respondents have already invested in cobots with another 42% planning to invest in the next 12 months. Australia is significantly ahead of Canada in this regard with that country’s numbers being 14% (invested) and 32% (planned) respectively.

To download the full Rockwell Automation State of Smart Manufacturing Report, click here.

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