How automation can make a dramatic impact in manufacturing
With AI and robotics advancing at an astounding rate, there aren’t many parts of a manufacturing process that can’t now be automated at some level.
In this article, we’re looking at how automation can dramatically impact the productivity and profitability of manufacturers in any sector.
What can be automated?
It’s easy to think of automation in terms of robotic arms picking and placing on conveyor belts, but automation is not limited to production lines.
Supply chain and procurement workflows are full of opportunities for streamlining and automation. Automatic document generation, email automation, invoice generation and payment reconciliation are just some examples. Pretty much any high-volume, repeatable task can be automated.
Sales and order processing
Automation tools can be integrated with multiple systems to consolidate order processing, fulfilment and tracking – from pricing calculations and payment processing to tracking delivery, and automatically initiating repeat orders. Automating your sales and ordering process improves turnaround time, reduces the risk of errors or delays, and improves customer satisfaction.
Distribution and logistics
Numerous document workflows slow the distribution process – carrier bidding, inspection sheets, order instructions, packing slips, shipment tracking and so on. By introducing automation tools, you make distribution and logistics more efficient and have greater visibility around order status. You can also manage your inventory, automatically reordering materials as required.
For manufacturers, automation on production lines can deliver huge advantages. And there are many applications that can be automated:
- Pick and place
- Packing and stacking
- Vacuum fixing
- Cutting and fixing
- Evacuation and extraction
- Blowing and injecting
- Pneumatic conveying
- Filling, canning and bottling
- Sealing and wrapping
- Spraying and drying
- Printing or labelling
When it comes to your production lines, there are three main types of automation:
Fixed: performs a single function – ideal for high-volume, single-part production.
Programmable: can be programmed to perform multiple functions – used in batch production.
Flexible: the middle ground between fixed and programmable – can perform changeover automatically, making it a good option for real-time or on-demand production.
Once you have selected the right automation solutions for your needs, you’ll start to see a whole host of benefits.
Benefits of automating production lines
Automating your production lines will have a significant impact on your productivity and profitability. Let’s take a closer look at the benefits automation has to offer.
Faster production times
Machines can work much faster and more accurately than humans, making the production line quicker and more efficient. Processing time can be reduced from days to hours, or in some cases, minutes.
Higher volume production
Because of the speed and efficiency of automated machinery, production volume is substantially increased. Machines don’t need to take breaks, and as long as they are properly maintained, they will work twenty-four-seven.
Flexibility and scalability
Automation is ideal for managing fluctuations in demand as it can be scaled up or down with ease. Machines can operate around the clock when timescales are tight, eliminating the need to take on additional workers during peak times.
Even the most conscientious of workers can make mistakes or forget to complete certain tasks. On the other hand, machines are carefully programmed and aren’t susceptible to tiredness, forgetfulness or misjudgement, which means fewer errors on the production line.
Because there are fewer errors, there is also less waste. Machines can operate with a higher level of accuracy, making them ideal for tasks that require absolute precision. They can apply the exact amount of pressure to ensure components don’t get crushed or damaged while being placed.
Lower risk of contamination
There is always a risk of contamination in manufacturing, regardless of how stringent the hygiene rules are. In some cases, food terrorism is also a risk. In comparison, the risk of contamination from machines is almost non-existent, as long as they are correctly cleaned, maintained and programmed.
No matter how well trained and careful your employees are, there is always a risk of accident or injury on the production line. Whether it’s an injury caused by lifting and moving, an accidental spillage causing a slip hazard, or clothing getting caught in machinery. When you use robotics, you eliminate these risks, with the worst-case scenario being a broken machine rather than an injured worker.
Another benefit of an automated production line is the accuracy of reporting. It’s easy for humans to make small errors when inputting data manually or forget to update reports if they get distracted by another task. Machines can track and record data in real-time, giving you better insights that can be used to predict and improve performance.
Because you’ll have fewer errors, reduced downtime, and less waste, you’ll reduce your costs, and you’ll also see dramatic decreases in labour costs. You can operate around the clock without having to employ hundreds of workers to man production lines or pay overtime when there are peaks in demand.
As outlined above, there are many benefits to utilising automation, AI, and robotics in manufacturing. But there are some downsides too – most notably, the initial investment required to automate the entire production line. That said, you will often see a fast return on investment due to the increased efficiency and productivity.
And the good news is you don’t have to replace all your equipment in one go. There are automation options available that can work with existing machines and integrate with new machinery as you upgrade.
The first step is to look at specific stages of each production process to see which sequences can be automated.
It’s worthwhile bringing in control and automation specialists at this stage as they can help you understand how and where your processes can be automated.
Working with AES
At AES, we use state-of-the-art solutions with user-friendly interfaces to help you automate your production line for increased efficiency and improved equipment reliability.
Our team will conduct a free site survey to assess your production process and fully understand which areas can benefit most from control and automation enhancements.
This will often focus on the processes where the equipment is unreliable or keeps breaking down, disrupting the process and having a considerable impact on production outputs. Processes that require the introduction of various elements and ingredients at various stages, weights and temperatures, also benefit greatly from automation.
Once we have conducted a survey, we’ll put together a detailed design, and when this is confirmed, we’ll start programming your system. We typically require two days on-site to build and install the control panel and user interface and test the whole system.
After testing, we provide on-site user training and supply you with a bespoke user manual. We use technology with a simple user dashboard-style interface and a clear graphical representation of the production process. It can also be controlled remotely to minimise any machine downtime.
When you purchase new machinery from an OEM or a reseller, they often don’t assist with the electrical installation of the equipment. This is where we differ, as we take care of the full end-to-end design, installation, and testing process.
If you’d like to understand more about how AES control and automation services can benefit your business, get in touch