CORRIGAN, TEXAS…. J.T. Lee gets to produce plywood using some of the world’s first robots in the wood manufacturing industry. J.T. is a Master Robotic Technician at the Georgia-Pacific Plywood plant in Corrigan where robots are changing the way plywood is made.
The Corrigan facility is home to three PolyPatch robots that are designed to detect and repair imperfections in wood veneer during production. Operating under the guidance of specially-trained technicians, these robots are increasing production efficiency while helping to create a better finished product. “Our robots can handle 525 plywood panels in one hour—about 1 panel every 20 seconds,” said Lee. Normally, it can take twice that amount of time to treat the same number of panels.
In most wood manufacturing plants, the PolyPatch responsibility is handled by multiple workers who are stationed on the line determining where the glue-like filler is needed and using it to repair the wood panels. While these jobs still exist within Georgia-Pacific and other manufacturing facilities throughout the world, the Corrigan Plywood plant is a unique example of how plants are being modernized to not only improve production, but to attract, retain and challenge industry employees.
According to Corrigan Plywood Plant Manager Chris Bluethman, it takes up to four employees each shift to manually run the PolyPatch system. However, the robot reduces that number to two. “Our employees, who have received specialized training on the robotic PolyPatch system, are now responsible for monitoring gauges and controls that run the technology. The robots perform the tedious and repetitious work while employees are tasked with more engaging work,” said Bluethman.
With this modernization, employees have either advanced as robotic technicians or have assumed different roles within the plant. While technology can sometimes be a threat to those on the front lines within the manufacturing sector, Georgia-Pacific is optimistic the new robots will have an opposite effect on workers. “New technology can challenge employees and give them the opportunity to grow their careers. By adding robots to our assembly lines, it is our goal to provide more meaningful work which leads to greater job satisfaction,” said Bluethman.
Starting his career with Georgia-Pacific ten years ago as an electrician, Lee admits he never dreamed he would have the opportunity to work with a robot in the wood products industry. The Lufkin High School graduate says he has always been interested in electrical work and when the job was posted – that offered him a chance to work with new technology – he applied. “I have always been a person who welcomes a challenge. The new robotic technology fascinated me and allowed me to try something new.”
- Ezra McMullin is a content and social media producer at MSGPR and attends Angelina College. He unwinds after a long day by playing XBox, telling himself he'll just play one more level before bed.