Automation – Making the Most of Skilled Labour

Automation – Making the Most of Skilled Labour
written by Peter Nemtsas, Director, AUTOCON

Manufacturing is quite rightly focussed on the design, development and production of products to meet customer orders or be available for sale. To create efficiencies and maintain high quality, manufacturers have installed Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines for automated milling, laser and plasma cutting, routing hole punching and drilling, to name a few. Manufacturers have also installed industrial robots for arc welding, materials handling, machine tending, painting, assembly, grinding, deburring, polishing, gluing and sealing. While these machines have increased productivity and the quality of the output, there has been little effort placed in eliminating or reducing the hidden waste or inefficiencies that can have a dramatic impact on production.

Many of these inefficiencies, or waste, are created by the incorrect use of labour within a facility. As an example, we at AUTOCON often see manufacturing facilities that have the latest CNC machines, robotic welders and the like, which are highly efficient at completing their processes. However, each machine is reliant on the manual supply of raw material into a production cell, and on completion of the process, manually removing products from the machine and stacking onto a pallet, trolley or bin, for the product to be manually moved to the next process or to product finishing/stores. The movement of small parts is more often than not, moved on a trolley by the machine operator.  Each day production staff spend a great deal of time manually moving raw materials and products from location to location around the facility.

The forecast for skilled labour to support manufacturing operations in Australia is fairly bleak with employers and workers feeling that recruiting and hiring is almost 50% more challenging than it was. 44% of companies are finding it harder now to hire new workers than ever, and 45% of people say it’s harder to get a new job¹. Shortages in stock and in staff as well as continued delays are expected to continue, with some predicting the flow will not be returned to normal for some 3 to 4 years.²

There were 929,900 filled jobs in manufacturing in Q1 2022. The ABS Labour Force Survey identified 831,100 people working in manufacturing in May 2022, down 2.2% from February 2022 and 8.7% year on year respectively. Employment dropped in most manufacturing sectors. Manufacturers indicated difficulty filling entry level positions. Some businesses noted that more staff were requesting casual working arrangements as staff absenteeism remained elevated.³

With the longer-term skills shortage forecast, there seems to be little sense in using skilled labour for low skilled tasks such as the movement of materials and products to and from production cells. The solutions for the release of skilled labour from these tasks seems to be in hiring unskilled labour, or through the use of automation.

  • Unskilled labour can be a quick and easy solution for the short term however, there has traditionally been a high turnover of these operators as their work is boring, mundane and involves a great deal of manual operation. A high turnover of these operators places further strain on business as they need to continually recruit, induct and train new staff. Add to this the reduction in productivity and the cost to replace each operator (up to 50% of the annual wage) and the necessary work arounds when operators are absent, these are issues best avoided.
  • Automation presents a unique opportunity to perform manual movement tasks by machines and release valuable skilled labour to perform essential and value adding work.


If you see operators in your business performing these tasks, then there is an opportunity to automate the process and reduce the manual handling effort in the business:

 For the equivalent cost of an FTE, an AMR can be implemented in 2 to 5 days to reduce the business exposure to injuries and repetitive strain claims, improve efficiency and redirect skilled labour to their primary tasks.                                                            

Manufacturers also need the flexibility to move lines to suit production demand and identify areas to optimise. Continuously adjusting facility layouts and making quick changeovers require automation solutions which can be modified quickly to meet demand.


AUTOCON was established in November 2021 as a result of the withdrawal of NKC from the Australian market. NKC was founded in Japan in 1924 and opened operations in Australia in 1982 to support their automotive, and other clients, with materials handling conveyor systems. In 2017 NKC moved into the logistics sector with newly developed technologies from Japan, such as mobile robotics, which complimented their existing range of manufacturing systems. At the same time, the Australian operation also entered partnerships with other elite manufacturers of materials handling equipment.  Such examples are companies like Cleanfix from Switzerland and Fetch Robotics from the USA for Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRS) as well as Proxaut from Italy for Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs).

Today AUTOCON works closely with its partners to bring outstanding materials handling solutions to the Australian market. As AUTOCON continues to support its local Australian customers, its values of respect and integrity will be at the forefront to venture into new materials handling opportunities. AUTOCON continues to maintain very strong working relationships with NKC and its other global partners. Apart from turnkey solutions, AUTOCON provides a consultancy service to improve business operations and project management.

AUTOCON designs, manufactures and installs automated material handling equipment. We offer complete turnkey solutions servicing local and international markets with Conveyors,

Automated Guided Vehicles, Robot systems, Warehouse Systems and Services.

  1. ASSA Group 2022
  2. Future Warehouse 2022
  3. Australian Industry Group Australian Performance of Manufacturing Index (Australian PMI®) July 2022

AUTOCON will be joining the Modern Manufacturing Expo 2022 on the 20th and 21st of September at Sydney Showground. Meet us at Modern Manufacturing Expo 2022


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