These are trying times for manufacturing. In my years in the industry, I thought I had seen everything. Among our broad base of customers, there has always been a sense of urgency, and there have always been unforeseen challenges. But none like we're seeing today.
In the face of uncertainty, one thing I believe is that industry can rise to the occasion. Time and again, our staff have been through the trenches with our customers. Together, we have paved new paths and overcome tremendous obstacles through creative and collaborative approaches to automation.
Depending on your industry, location and unique circumstances, many of us are facing a new and different type of reality. I’ve compiled a list with some of the types of challenges that manufacturers, distributors, and even clinicians may currently be experiencing - along with some resources that may help you address them.
We hope you will find some of this material relevant and helpful to your situation:
Meeting Surge Demand
While many industries are facing slowdowns, others in the medical, pharmaceutical and consumer goods sectors are tasked with scaling up quickly to meet urgent demand.
Scaling Up (and Down) Smoothly Through Automation
Turbulent global economies, ever-changing government regulations, greater customer specifications, supply chain management and skilled worker shortages, to name a few: These outside influences, compounded by personal business struggles, are demanding a high level of attention from company leaders, prompting them to invest in advanced technologies, including robotic automation, to withstand market pressures, achieve tangible outcomes and maintain competitive edge.
Agile Players Stepping Up
The dominant players in any given industry tend to normally run as near to max production capacity as possible. But in the face of a global crisis, smaller, more agile operations can be poised to address the urgent surge in demand.
Finding “Easy Wins” for Automation
Under pressure to scale-up quickly, there are ways to incrementally improve overall output without putting you out too disruptively.
Rapidly Deploying New Processes
Job shops, integrators, and even OEMs in slowdown industries may be called upon to repurpose their operations and help address the overflow demand for products that are urgently needed. This requires adopting new processes and rapid deployment. Many of the new robotic technologies on the market are geared to support those goals:
Leveraging New Technologies
Not only does robotic technology need to be robust enough to deal with high demand production, but also it should be engineered in such a way that it is easily integrated with existing automation to facilitate quick and easy implementation of a robot system.
Flattening the Learning Curve
Introducing new technologies has proven to be disruptive in the past, but new, more intuitive robot programming methods have been designed to ramp-up deployment and operation faster than ever.
Working With What You Have
If you’re repurposing your existing operation, you don’t necessarily have to start from scratch. A fast and low-cost way to leverage new technologies is by upgrading through a retrofit of your existing system.
Freeing Up the Supply Chain
On both a global and domestic scale, we are facing ever-changing hurdles to moving products through the supply chain. Here are some examples of proven automation methods, as well as new technologies that have aided its velocity:
Removing Consumer Product Bottlenecks
We’ve all seen video of purpose-built machinery producing food and supplies at amazing speeds. Bottlenecks can typically occur at the end of the line, where packaged goods are put into cases and placed on pallets. Robotics has proven to be a major asset to moving product out the door as quickly as possible.
Scaling Clinical Lab Processing
Few industries are facing pressure for high-volume throughput as much as clinical laboratories. Using a modular approach to automation enables them to improve speed, capacity and accuracy for labor-intensive areas of their processes.
Going Direct to Consumers
While large-scale warehousing and fulfillment operations have planned big moves into automation for years, brick-and-mortar retailers are feeling the pressure to move quickly into this space:
Operating With a “Skeleton Crew”
With ongoing worker shortages and rising furloughs, the need for manufacturers to do more with less is more urgent than ever. There are short- and long-term ways to address this through flexible automation approaches, and access to training resources:
Deploying Lights-Out Manufacturing
Manufacturers may be forced to reduce staff as a result of slowdown or safety concerns - to the point of eliminating shifts completely. If this comes at the expense of meeting production demands, having the ability to run unmanned shifts could help level things out. Some examples include:
Re-skilling Staff for Automation
Adding automation at any level requires training of staff, often an investment of time and resources you can barely afford. We have taken several measures to reduce the learning curve and enable you to take full advantage of your training investment. Some resources include:
Minimizing Human Contact
New workplace policies are stressing a need to minimize human contact. For work that typically requires teams of laborers, new robotic technology can improve the work environment and lend a hand where it’s needed. Here are some ways manufacturers can adapt to the new reality:
Maintaining Safety and Sanitation
Increased sanitary practices could become the “new normal” for many direct-to-consumer industries. Here are some examples of how food producers and public-facing operations are using automation to help maintain standards, and create future business opportunities:
How Food Producers are Automating
If you think of the food industry as a wheel, safety is the hub and its spokes are: production, cleanliness and labor. The rim tying these spokes together ought to be automation because it can directly improve each one. Here’s how:
Being Wash-down/Wipe-down Ready
Dirty and harsh working environments can also benefit from the same equipment upgrades that sanitary environments are required to use. Robots that are wipe-down or wash-down ready can make it easier to employ new cleaning routines, protecting your workers and your equipment.
Bringing Unmanned Food Service to Consumers
What started as a novelty could become a common business model, as robots enter the food service and bar industries.
We are ready to help industry achieve your best way forward, through the collective experience of the team at Yaskawa Motoman. If this is an "all-hands" situation for your business, consider us a resource that you can consult freely at any time.