1) Automation benefits
Automation can powerfully impact operators and other shop floor staff. Anything that is repetitive is a good candidate for automation – not just because automation improves efficiency and reduces downtime, but because it can positively impact operators’ physical and mental health. Major benefits include:
- Operational efficiency: Automating repetitive tasks increases production efficiency
- Increased profitability: Time, material per part, downtime decline; operator utilization increases
- Skilled labor gap: Automating routine tasks frees operators for critical decision making
- Increased consistency/ accuracy: Less risk of human error
2) Most manufacturers can benefit from automation
Automation has a wide variety of applications. The scale of improvement depends on the type of manufacturing, level of production, and type of system used. High-volume manufacturers can cost-effectively boost productivity. Low-volume, high-mix producers can use automated machines to consolidate functions that would otherwise be spread across several different machines, simplifying production – all you need to do is get the part in and out of the machine.
3) Getting started
Assess the benefits you’re seeking from automation. How much does it cost to make your part? What is your current spindle run time? Once you’ve established your baseline, you can easily identify anything in your process that’s standing in the way of improvement, take measures to fix those areas, and implement processes that improve production and efficiency.
Start with the simplest, immediately recognizable barriers to meeting your goals. Automating that process will allow you to track data in real-time, see improvements and make predictions, and identify more areas that can be optimized.
4) Implementing solutions
There are a few ways automation can be implemented. Technology already built into machine tools will allow you to work on machine and automation controls simultaneously. In other cases, and for manufacturers looking to automate existing machines, a custom solution can be implemented.
Operators and technicians will first need training on the machines and new technologies they’ll be using. For a turnkey multi-robot system or a load-and-go system, it’s important workers are familiar with the new functionality.
5) Types of automation to consider
Different shops will have different automation needs. Options include:
- Okuma ROID series: ARMROID is built into the machine tool to maintain and streamline operations; STANDROID is a standalone robot package that provides multifunctional and efficient manufacturing on a compact footprint
- Bar feeders: Good entry-level automation solutions; provide production consistency; time, material savings; higher efficiency; cost savings
- Robotic cells: Integrated into machines and designed to enhance the workflow of an entire production line; improve throughput, speed deliveries
- Gantry loaders: Less flexible than robotic cells, work quickly with moving headstocks, allowing loaders to enter machines, regardless of turret position
- Automatic pallet changers: Stationary pallet stands with pallet-transfer units in compact, single-level storage structures improve flexibility, productivity with minimal footprint