Is automation right for you?

Industrial automation is not just for the GM’s and GE’s anymore, factories are becoming smarter, faster, and more connected.  In the past automation meant big bucks; items like microcontrollers, motion components and robotics where all hard to use and not easy to maintain.  But with the technology transformation of the past decade, these components are now low cost, easy to maintain, and offer better control and stability than ever before.  Below are some common questions when it comes to automation and whether it fits your manufacturing goals.

Outside of being faster, what are the other benefits of automation?

There are four things to think about when considering automation of a task

·        SPEED

·        QUALITY

·        SAFETY

·        FLEXIBLITY

The first is a given, we understand automation can speed up a process, but sometimes faster is not the only goal.

Look at quality and safety when deciding whether to automate a process.  If you’re a follower of lean manufacturing you understand that by stabilizing a process, establishing procedures, and setting up workstations, we achieve repeatability.  The more we can control the variables in a process the more repeatable we can make it, and if it’s repeatable then we have a higher chance to get it right consistently.  Automation does just that, it brings repeatability to your processes, a machine can repeat a process a hundred times or a million times without variation.

Lean also teaches us that safety is a byproduct of repeatability.  Processes are set up with safety in mind, it’s when these processes aren’t followed that people get hurt, equipment becomes damaged, and downtime occurs.  So by repeating a safe process in a safe way, accidents go down and operator injuries decrease or many times just go away.

The other key benefit is flexibility.  If you require a thousand of Widget X today, but none of Widget X tomorrow automation allows you the flexibility to ramp up immediately, run through the night and make your quota.  Tomorrow turn that machine off and work on the next big order

What about low volume manufacturing and job shops?

One of the largest challenges low volume manufacturer’s face is the fluctuation of work as big orders come in today and leave tomorrow.  Maintaining proper staffing level is key to keeping customer’s happy, but there lies the challenge of finding quality skilled employees when you need them, and then keeping them productive when you don’t. 

Industrial automation can be the saving grace, the ability to speed up and slow down a production schedule simply by turning on/off a machine or cranking up/slowing down a dial.  In these environments automation payback is found in the time from order to delivery and keeping customer’s happy.

What if I don’t want to purchase a robot?

It’s a common misconception that people associate automation with robotics…yes, robotics is a form of automation, but often times not the best form.  Robots can be amazingly versatile and nimble but often operate at the same speed (or slower) than us humans.  Keep this in mind as you look at automation via robotics; we’ve found that custom equipment is often times cheaper and more effective than investing in a robot.

Where to get started?

Look at your applications and make a list.  Think about what tasks can be automated and a potential return if you did so.  After that you can research online for automation components and equipment to meet your needs.

OR…Simply give us a call for a free consultation.  We’ll visit with you about your application and discuss needs as well as solutions that might fit.  If a custom machine or machine design is required, we can offer a proposal to do so.

 

OTHER ARTICLES THAT YOU MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN

Sources:

1)       “What is Industrial Automation?”; http://www.surecontrols.com/what-is-industrial-automation/

2)       “How Lean Job Shops Become Agile” by Andy Glaser; http://www.motoman.com/blog/index.php/lean-job-shops-become-agile