Addressing Labor Challenges with Robotic Automation

U.S. manufacturing is faced with two challenges in today’s market – an aging population and a shortage of workers, both challenging issues for component manufacturers. However, rather than focus on the negative, let’s focus on the positive note that the demand for building components over the last 6 years has grown by 11% on average. The long-term forecasts for the industry suggest continued double digit growth rates for the foreseeable future. As we focus on the upside of these trends, it is important to take deliberate steps to meet the challenges of today while preparing for tomorrow. Skilled labor is hard to find with 90% of U.S. contractors and manufacturers reporting concerns.[1] This statistic is felt by everyone in the industry and is why leading companies are proactively exploring ways to address this problem and develop possible answers. House of Design, robot integrators, partnered with Alpine, an ITW Company, to help solve labor issues with automation.

Providing Labor Solutions for Component Manufacturing

Attract the Best
One aspect of using robotics that is not often discussed is that they can serve as a way of retaining employees. Although a major concern among skilled labor is that “robots are going to take our jobs”, we have found the opposite to be true. In the case of our truss products, robots alleviate some of the dangerous and undesirable work while creating more rewarding positions. Companies that invest in training current personnel to adapt to incoming robot installs are more likely to appeal to today’s manufacturing worker. House of Design’s automated roof and floor truss systems are collaborative in nature with both operator and robot filling key production roles. The robot is designed to support employees, not replace them. Robots take care of the heavy lifting, manipulate material, and complete repetitive tasks. Operators are now available for quality control checks, infeed and outfeed management, and plate magazine replenishment. These changes in the working environment will assist companies in attracting the best candidates in limited labor pools. Using technology to appeal to younger workers is an important consideration for manufacturers, especially considering the rate of change the building component industry is bound to see over the next decade.

A 4600 ABB robot places a preplated member in the correct sequence and location on the table prior to quality check and pressing. Robots now so the material handling. Industry standard flipping is no longer required with the automated system.

Employee Safety
Addressing the safety aspect, there are many tasks that subject workers to risky scenarios. The building components industry is ideal for robotics based on these risks. House of Design and Alpine are addressing these safety issues through automation. For example, our truss system manages the layout and sequence of truss assembly, removing the worker from lifting members and selecting connector plates. Injuries associated with constant material handling could be significantly reduced. Employees are not bent over and stooped all day. Our system also reduces the interaction with connector plates, helping improve employee safety. Lastly, we understand the danger in working around moving equipment, so we design our systems with proper security guarding and sensor technology. Our top priority is worker safety and ergonomics.

House of Design’s preplate station – preplating members for robotic assembly. A key to reducing safety hazards and pick errors.

Robots are a part of your workforce
As demand continues to increase for new housing and interest rates stay low, manufacturers will need to look towards technology to address some of their labor challenges. As we speak with leading truss manufacturers, many are struggling to find new employees and often experience high turnover. Robotic automation is not the only answer; however, robots can help fill in the 20-30% labor shortfall most companies are experiencing. Having automation in your arsenal will help some companies take advantage of the current demand trends in the building components industry. Not only can robots become a valuable “employee”, they can also help improve employee retention and decrease downtime due to a reduction in injuries. Together we can help drive truss plants into a thriving and sustainable future. Contact your Alpine Sales Representative or visit to learn how to leverage this technology to improve your business today.

[1] Berkshire Select, Inc., 2020 Premium Report on Truss Manufacturing, Boston, MA, 2020, page 2