Local company uses robots to solve labor shortage

Published: Mar. 16, 2020 at 4:59 PM CDT
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According to a local company, the Chippewa Valley is experiencing a major labor shortage.

"We're not trying to run employees out of our business; we're just trying to fill the gap of not having employees,” said VP of Operations at PMI Erik Larson.

That is the mindset of PMI, a welding company located in Bloomer, when trying to solve their current labor shortage.

"Over the last number of years, we've noticed that the labor market out there is starting to dry up a little bit so it is getting harder to get some employees in the door,” Larson said.

Larson says they are creating a collaboration between robot and human welders.

"We now have three robots in the plant, one in the welding department and two in the press department and we are able to keep our machines running without having to have employees in those areas,” he said.

He also says the robots help him to take on more welding jobs.

"It enables us to keep bringing in new work and not relying to always have to find another welder or another press operator,” Larson said.

Larson says the robots also make the work environment safer.

"A cobot is designed to where if it meets resistance, it will stop the motion,” he said.

HR Manager Shirley Gutsch, says the new robots also allow more skilled welders to focus on more difficult work.

"The welding that is done with that weld robot, is also some of that easier more repetitive welding that some of our skilled welders do now,” Gutsch said. “It allows them to go off and do some of those more complex welds. That makes a happier employee and a happier company."

Larson says the employees are looking forward to working with the robots.

"A lot of the employees are real excited because they get to technology, they get to program robots, work along with robots,” he said.

According to Larson, the business rents the robots from another company and each robot costs about $1,200 a week to operate.

He says with renting the robots, if a new employee is hired for its position, It's able to give the rental company a 30 day notice the robot is no longer needed.