By Dani Sheehan.
When people start to talk about robotics and automation, it can be easy to immediately jump into the negative consequences that might result as the industry grows. In episode 13 of MetalCast’s first season, Heidi J. Ellsworth sits down with Brad Van Dam, the vice president of sales at MTL Holdings, to discuss the work at Metal-Era and how they are improving risk for partners, contractors and homeowners alike.
MTL Holdings is now the parent company of Metal-Era, Hickman Edge Systems and Citadel Architectural Products. Around 300 employees work for this organization, and they continue to expand within the edge metal market. In this episode, they talk about the significance of this growth and how they continue to invest in their people and their products.
Studies have shown that the roof edge is one of the primary areas of failure, especially in locations known for high winds, leading to wind design standards in the industry. Largely, these were being manufactured and customized by contractors when they went in for repairs or replacements to try to replicate what’s existing. But as Brad explains, “that creates a lot of varying degrees of engineering capability, manufacturing capability, consistency, auditing, repeatability, that comes with thousands of different manufacturing processes.” With increasing labor constraints, having this type of customization available on site can be challenging on the jobsite. “We really like the idea of protecting the primary failure point with a strong, engineered, repeatable, robotically made system that helps the customer reduce their risk,” Brad continues. “And so we’ve transitioned since ‘08 into focusing on automation of processes like most manufacturers do.”
This is not just providing safety to the customer but can be beneficial for employees as well. While the popular fear is that humans will lose jobs to robotics, Brad tells Heidi it’s one of his favorite parts in growing the business because “it’s allowed folks to upskill and move to different positions that were necessary” and leaves the repeatable parts movements to the machines. This in turn also allows the more dangerous jobs to be systemized and automated, removing employees from potentially risky areas.
Heidi had the opportunity to take their plant tour and noticed firsthand the benefits of adding robotics and technology to the floor. It’s increased diversity in hiring and created a fun work environment, with three Best Workplaces in Wisconsin awards to show for it. According to Brad, “The people here are still my favorite part.”
Dani is a writer for the Coffee Shops and AskARoofer™. When she's not writing or researching, she's training for trail races and working on her yoga teaching certification.
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