Why Manufacturing Automation is Important and Where to Start
A recent report found that 57% of employers want to start using automation as a way to improve human performance and productivity. When asked, nearly 70% of workers believe that automation will open up opportunities to qualify for higher-skilled work.
Manufacturing automation gives you and your business the ability to monitor equipment and processes remotely. It also allows you to make better decisions and free up skilled workers for different tasks, leading to higher productivity.
With the pandemic came an even larger push to bring in manufacturing automation. The closure of many workplaces led to disruption in supply chains across every industry. Having automated systems in place can help alleviate these problems.
If you run a manufacturing business, you may be looking at how to implement automation. In this article we look at the benefits of automation and how it can help your business grow, and how to get started. Read on to begin your automation journey.
Why Use Manufacturing Automation
Automation isn’t a new concept. Business owners have been automating processes and physical tasks for hundreds of years. Conveyor belts are the classic example in the early factories.
What’s evolved today is a combination of machinery, robotics and modern technology. Combining this with the power of AI or artificial intelligence, over the past couple of decades, has helped increase productivity. This is down to improving manufacturing speed. It also boosts precision and quality.
Fill Gaps In The Industry
Using an automated system can help account for gaps in the industry. In some countries, there’s a shift away from the manufacturing industries. As your current workforce gets older, there are not enough skilled workers to take their place when they retire. Using manufacturing automation can help to fill this void in the skills force.
With the increase in online shopping, which grew exponentially during the pandemic, many companies struggle to keep up with orders. Using automation can help speed up productivity to keep up with supply.
Manufacturing automation can also help to keep workers safe as the robots can complete dirty, dull or dangerous jobs. These types of jobs can include checking for cracks in wind turbines or inspecting sewers and infrastructure of unstable buildings.
Using automated processes can also alleviate health problems. Common problems include repetitive stress injuries and protection from hazardous materials.
Upfront costs are relatively high. Companies who have invested in manufacturing automation have said it’s worth it in the long run. With advancements in technology, entry into the world of automation is a lot more affordable now. This makes it more accessible to small and medium companies.
Depending on the automated system deployed, businesses start to see a return on investment within six to 15 months. Continual improvements in software mean manufacturing automation is becoming easier to set up and use. Existing staff are quickly able to operate the system without the need for months of training or hiring of a specialist engineer.
What Can You Automate?
If you’re wondering what you can automate in manufacturing, this can be overwhelming. Nearly every process in the production line can benefit from automation somehow.
One key thing to remember is to think of the small jobs rather than a one-machine-to-do-everything approach. This could be tasks that a worker currently does, like quality checking, assembly, soldering and so on. The automation of these manual jobs can help free up your valuable workforce to tackle another task. Here are some things that can be automated.
- Quality inspection
- Picking and packing
- Scanning for irregularities and cracks in a surface
- Loading and unloading
- Weighing and delivery of exact quantities
Types of Automation You Might Need
The world of manufacturing automation has no shortage of systems to choose from. Each type of automation system performs different tasks and has different capabilities. Before you start, it’s useful to know what sort of tasks you plan to automate. Here are some examples of the types of manufacturing automation machines types you could use:
Industrial Robot Arms
When you say robots in manufacturing, this is the image that most people conjure up. A robot arm is one of the most versatile pieces of manufacturing equipment and can be automated to run the same task quickly and accurately over and over again.
These can come in a range of sizes and work with large items such as home white goods and cars, or be small scale and work with delicate electronic assembly. They are usually in a separate area from human workers and fitted with sensors to prevent injuries.
Collaborative Robot Or Cobots
These are similar to robotic arms; however, they differ because a cobot or collaborative robot is designed to work alongside a human worker, unlike a regular robot arm that is separate.
Cobots are fitted with sensors that allow humans and machines to work in close proximity with the robot on a specific task.
This style of the automated robot is often smaller than standard industrial robots, because of the sensors, and elements of human safety required, they do work at a slower pace than industrial robot arms.
Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs)
These robots feel like the gap between human and bot, in that they move from one place to another. Autonomous Mobile Robots, or AMRs, are ideal for transporting materials around a factory floor, organising packages around a distribution centre, or picking and packing items in a warehouse.
These robots are smart enough to detect objects in their way and navigate safely around them as they go about their task. An AMR can be paired with collaborative robot arms which can increase the tasks they are able to do.
Machine Vision Systems
As the name hints, these automated systems utilise cameras and other sensing technology such as radars, lasers or LIDAR.
A typical use for Machine Vision Systems is for the inspection of defects in a product. They can also assist with inventory management. These systems can also perform inventory management and the medical industry.
Additional Technologies Used In Manufacturing Automation
Along with the main types of robots used in manufacturing automation. These technologies can be used with any of them to enhance the capabilities of it.
Smart conveyors are used to quickly determine the location of a package as it moves through a warehouse or production line.
Smart sensors can be placed on any manufacturing equipment to monitor data to provide detailed analysis.
Augmented reality and virtual reality technologies can be incorporated with technical data and provide scenarios to help train workers on complicated tasks.
Simulation systems are used to provide manufacturers with better data between what is designed and what has been produced to help eliminate waste and errors.
How To Start
Now you have an understanding of why manufacturing automation is important, along with an overview of the different types of robots available to help streamline processes, you’ll probably be wondering where to start.
Speak To Your Team
By speaking to your team across all areas of your business, you’ll be able to identify where problems arise and work out what are the best things to be automated. Find out if there are recurring issues across a range of teams; for example, if quality is an issue, then focus your automation systems on improving this.
Also, your employees will appreciate being involved in the decision to bring in automation systems. If they are kept in the dark about this, it can raise suspicions that their jobs are being replaced by robots, which isn’t the case. Encourage your staff that the use of automated systems are there to help them with their work, they are going to be used for tasks, and not to replace jobs.
Staff Benefits Of Automation
Using a robot to free up the time taken to do a repetitive and simple task, this gained time will allow your staff to have more time for development and creativity, which can help them advance their career into other fields in the manufacturing industry. This could be an excellent swaying factor for staff stuck in manual roles looking to work their way up in the industry.
Find The Right Partners
The next stage is to find a partner or robotics provider who will be able to discuss your plans in more depth. They will have valuable expertise in the automation field and be able to suggest a strategic plan to integrate these into your business.
Bear in mind that some robotic services are integrators who work with third-party robot manufacturers or distributors. Other companies will have everything in-house and will take you through the whole journey from concept to installation.
Are You Ready To Automate?
If you’re still unsure where to get started with manufacturing automation in your business, SP Automation and Robotics are your answer. We’re market leaders in bespoke automation for a wide range of niches.
We can design a manufacturing and automation system for your exact needs. We also specialise in the assembly of special purpose machine building and have been doing so for over 35 years. Speak to a member of our knowledgeable team today to discuss how automation can help you.
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