New Leader Manufacturing adding robotic welder with innovation grant funds

This robotic welder is being added to the workforce at New Leader Manufacturing in Cedar Rapids. CREDIT NEW LEADER MANUFACTURING

New Leader Manufacturing in Cedar Rapids is adding a new co-worker, in the form of a robotic welder, as the company continues to look for ways to help address workforce issues and ensure a positive workplace culture.

The funds for this robot were received through the state’s Manufacturing 4.0 Workforce Innovation Grant program, 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 the region to be awarded these funds.

Ruey Loh, 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,” Mr. Loh said. “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,” Mr. Loh said. “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.”

The 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 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,” Mr. Loh said. “Using these robots will help scale back on overtime.”

New Leader officials also said the productivity gains will add to the employees’ quarterly profit sharing program.

The idea for the robot was a team effort. Several of their employees have seen robotic technology during their education or through their previous employment.

Mr. Loh said it was important to get input from their welders who had great insights on what to look for when searching for the right technology.

“Once we gain our confidence and capability of the machine, then we’ll look into further investments as the opportunity arise,” he added.

Innovation isn’t a new concept at New Leader. One of the company’s recent innovations is the final assembly test stand, which allows the company to test a spreader before it gets shipped off to their customer.

“This technology performs a functional test that simulates real world applications out in the field,” Mr. Loh said. “We are able to obtain real data and want to try to catch any defects before it gets sent to our customers.”

New Leader plans to continue adding to their catalog of nearly two dozen different spreaders and road maintenance equipment in the upcoming years with the installation of the robotic welder, currently scheduled for September.