At this year’s IMTS in Chicago, I had a number of discussions with manufacturers that were looking for ways to improve their manufacturing process.
- Some were part of an industry experiencing stagnant growth, and they were looking to prepare for future growth opportunities.
- Some were looking to address the cost of reworking parts so that they could maintain costs.
- Others were investigating ways to increase production levels since their business is booming.
It got me thinking about previous conversations that I’ve had with customers about their efforts in similar situations. In every case, a thorough understanding of the constraints and issues in their business led us to an in-depth discussion on how automation could help improve their manufacturing process.
For example, one manufacturer in the heavy equipment industry explained that he felt he should be cutting costs due to the slower market conditions that he was experiencing. During our discussion he mentioned that experience told him that the market would rebound. Since he wanted to be ready for that, we mapped out a plan to cut his current production costs by installing two robotic welding systems. Our ROI analysis revealed that the multi-million dollar capital investment in automation not only prepared him for the future, but it also provided an immediate improvement on quality and throughput.
I also spoke with a manufacturer whose business was steady. He remarked that, while orders continued to flow, he would like to reduce rework costs which would positively impact his bottom line.
The rework centered on weld defects due to his struggle to find skilled, certified welders. After analyzing the parts being welded, we determined that robotic welding would produce consistent, high quality welds, eliminating rework and scrap. The cost savings achieved by reducing rework and scrap, justified the implementation of the robotic welding system.
Another manufacturer in a different industry, one that is booming, had me visit his facility not long ago. As we toured the plant, he explained that he was struggling to keep up with production requirements. There was a tremendous amount of activity with welders literally climbing over one another to complete their tasks. Space was obviously at a premium. In addition, I noticed bottlenecks in the production process. Additional welders had been added to the already congested space in an attempt to balance the production line. This is a common solution that many manufacturers resort to; however, it can perpetuate an inefficient process and potentially a dangerous situation. After reviewing the manufacturing floor, we were able to design an automated solution using multiple robots in a high-density configuration to address both the space and safety concerns. A key area of focus during the system design was the ability to expand production capacity. This was accomplished through a site survey and engineering study conducted by our application engineering team. The manufacturer saw an immediate impact in worker safety, throughput and quality.
The common thread is that whether business is slow, steady or booming, there’s an opportunity to set yourself up for future success by implementing automation. Determining how to apply a flexible and scalable robotics solution does take a bit of analysis. My recommendation for plant owners is to invite a robotics expert to come to your site for a visit. Yaskawa Motoman has been helping companies explore automation opportunities for nearly 30 years. In as little as a few hours, a study of your current work practices can identify bottlenecks, inefficiencies and general areas where robotic automation could provide an advantage. Generally speaking, payback on automation investments can happen in two years or less.
Studying how a facility operates and considering the role automation can play, is a way to “future-proof” production. No matter where in the economic cycle your company finds itself, a site visit will identify where automation can make your plant more cost competitive.
Dean Elkins is a Segment Leader, Material Handling at Yaskawa America, Inc. - Motoman Robotics Division