Robotics News & Insights

How Lean Job Shops Become Agile

Written by Jennifer Katchmar | Dec 9, 2014 9:58:03 AM

For job shops considering robotics, the first question you should ask is “why do we need a robot?" The purpose of that question is to raise more questions. For example, what is the current overall effectiveness of the process to be automated? Which products should be considered for automation? What will the return on investment be? Do we have a reliable process today? If we do automate, how will we know we are making a good part?

Someone once said you can’t improve what you don’t measure. If the process is not being measured, then why would you simply add a robot? I guarantee you will never realize the potential ROI or success you expected if you don’t optimize the manual process first and then automate redundant tasks. Factors like product mix segmentation, product flow based on routings, having a reliable process in the first place and measuring the process must be considered before utilizing robotics. Why automate a bad process?

The presentation linked below outlines the best practices that can be accomplished at the interim level and may save manufacturers considerable money before investing in capital equipment. Also, examine other ways of automating before robotics, because these enhancements can become even more powerful when the actual process is automated.

Your routings are the DNA of your organization. They define what is unique from one manufacturer to another – even for the same type of products. Routings should be grouped by process and optimized for changeover efficiency and reliability. Then when you do automate with robotics, the rewards will be great, even if the production model is high-mix, low-volume.

When considering robotics, never forget to also ask the key question, “how will we know we are making a good part?" This is extremely important because robots can make non-compliant parts better than humans.

The goal is to move beyond lean and become agile by measuring what you do and then improving. Optimize the manual process first; then automate redundant tasks.

Rapid-Line – a Michigan-based job shop – is a great example of how a high-mix, low volume shop can use automation effectively. In the case study video below, you’ll see how Rapid-Line:

  • Gradually integrates robotics when clear opportunities arise, enabling them to perform as many as 800 jobs a week – some with as little as a 4-hour turnaround time.
  • Employs simple robotic teaching methods that enable staff to quickly set up new robotic welding jobs.


By Andy Glaser