By Brian Huse, Director, Marketing & PR (RIA)
User membership is on the rise at Robotic Industries Association. In fact, membership in all categories is up for the year, but a special emphasis has been placed on recruiting companies that use or plan to use robots and results are very good.
Out of 274 members in November 2007, 57 were users. Few trade associations even have a user category, let alone a mix where 20 percent of the membership is from customers in the very market it serves. From its Board of Directors (which includes users, plus suppliers, integrators and researchers) to RIA committees, the Association has always held the interests of users in mind.
One reason users are such an important mix within the trade association is the mandate for safety. In the U.S., the end user company is ultimately responsible for the safety of its workers. Robots present a very dynamic safety challenge thanks to their combination of speed plus power; a wide variety of applications and an ever-increasing playbook of programming options.
Factory workers are more and more likely to operate and maintain robots in today’s global market. According to everything I’ve ever seen and heard, their safety record in North America is stellar.
Robots are used around the world wherever quality and safety is a concern. Robots take workers out of dangerous situations, which is one reason North American unions have been supportive of these multi-axis, reprogrammable manufacturing tools.
Unfortunately, there are places in third world countries where workers still toil under ridiculously unsafe conditions. Many industrialized nations have worked hard to safeguard their workforce with health and safety standards that are enforced by government agencies (such as OSHA in the U.S.). Robots have proven to be not only a good alternative where conditions are unsafe (even life threatening), but one that allows companies to compete against low-wage industrial nations that have no culture of workplace safety.
I recently saw a video that showed four or five guys sitting under a large stamping press that raised and lowered right over their heads. Between cycles, they removed finished parts and inserted sheet metal blanks. The press cycled every few seconds and the men literally had to duck under it each time it came down. How much do you want to bet that for a predictable percentage of the operation, a few of these workers literally became part of the press?
The video footage seems almost too outrageous to be true, but one of our members shared it during the last Robotic Grinding, Deburring & Finishing Workshop, and it seemed completely authentic. I gather the operation was somewhere in Asia.
Of course, the point is that today’s manufacturers have to contend with this kind of global competition. The thing is: robots have become so affordable that the business case of safety plus quality is easily made even where wages are low, and the fact is robots are used quite a bit in China, India and many other places with cheap labor.
RIA embraces and values the user with a very affordable membership category. The Association provides a forum for the user’s voice to be heard by suppliers and integrators, and is a pipeline of information for robot safety and best practices. In fact, RIA sponsors the ANSI/RIA R15.06 Robot Safety Standard, and welcomes participation from user companies around the world.
If you haven’t joined yet, please take a look at RIA corporate benefits. You’ll be in good company.