New hardware is coming to New Leader Manufacturing as they continue to look for ways to help address workforce issues and ensure a positive workplace culture. This cutting edge technology will act as a new co-worker in the form of a robotic welder. The funds for this robot were received through the Manufacturing 4.0 Workforce Innovation Grant which was designed to help address workforce issues and retain existing employees with manufacturers across the state of Iowa. New Leader Manufacturing was one of nine companies in our region to be awarded these funds.
Iowa’s skilled labor shortage is not new to New Leader Manufacturing, being strong supporters and partners of schools and nonprofits aimed at increasing awareness of careers in the trades. Ruey Loh, the Senior Manufacturing Support Manager at New Leader Manufacturing, said the idea of the robotic welder came from current welder shortages the industry is facing. “Labor shortages is the biggest problem we currently have, especially finding skilled laborers. Welders are really hard to find and knowing that the market is really scarce, we looked to other options.”
Even though the robotic welder idea stemmed from a workforce pain point, the goal of this new technology is to help increase productivity, not take away available career opportunities within the company. “This robot will not take away anyone’s job, they are aiding someone’s job,” Loh stated. “It allows the jobs to be easier for our employees. You don’t have to lift, bend, or work at an angle that’s uncomfortable.”
This robotic welder will be the first part of a series of innovation New Leader Manufacturing plans to implement throughout the next few years. The first robotic welder will be placed at the beginning of the welding process, where they make smaller components that go into the final product. New Leader Manufacturing plans to utilize their employees to help set up material for the robot and while the robot is working on welding the current project, the employee will begin setting up the next part to be welded. “Not only are we looking for an increase in productivity, but we are looking at the work life balance of our employees. Using these robots will help scale back on the overtime,” Loh added. In addition, New Leader Manufacturing foresees robotics as a win for employees; the productivity gains will add to the employees’ quarterly profit sharing program.
The idea for this robot was a team effort. Several of their employees have seen robotic technology during their education or through their previous employment. Loh talked about how it was important to get input from their welders who had great insights on what to look for when searching for the right technology. Loh said, “Once we gain our confidence and capability of the machine, then we’ll look into further investments as the opportunity arise.”
Innovation isn’t a new concept at New Leader Manufacturing. For more than 80 years, they’ve consistently thought outside of the box and searched for ways to improve productivity, promote careers in the trade, and be the leader in their industry. One of those recent innovations is the final assembly test stand. This technology allows the company to test the spreader before it gets shipped off to their customer. Loh added, “This technology performs a functional test that simulates real world applications out in the field. We are able to obtain real data and want to try catch any defects before it gets sent to our customers.”
They’re planning to continue to add onto their catalogue of nearly two dozen different spreaders and road maintenance equipment in the upcoming years with the installation of the robotic welder scheduled to happen in September. Each piece of equipment at New Leader Manufacturing has not only been designed with latest technology, but each project is treated with the utmost care by a talented team of employees and leadership. Everyone working together for a common purpose of providing the best of the best in quality, innovation, and products are what has driven the continued success of New Leader Manufacturing since 1939. Quality people. Quality equipment. Quality future.