For manufacturers and producers, the need to reduce costs and increase efficiencies is no longer an option. After all, many of your competitors are likely already chasing down improvements in their processes and how they get work done, and the longer you wait the larger the disadvantage becomes when you compare your capabilities against those that are getting more out of their existing resources and capabilities.
But with manufacturing automation services, you can start to integrate the efficiencies that can help you better manage your assets and resources, as well as enhancing your ability to outsource simple tasks to automation so that your resources can be better utilized elsewhere. In fact, it’s the companies that offer manufacturing automation services that can help you adapt to a quickly changing world and avoid being left behind.
Demystifying Manufacturing Automation
It all starts with the advantages of automation in manufacturing. Whether you manufacture industrial parts, pharmaceuticals or food and beverages, there’s a lot to be gained via manufacturing automation. In a nutshell, manufacturing automation is about setting an end goal of increased efficiency and working backwards to achieve that by reducing costs and increasing production capacity — most times both.
When production costs drop and capabilities rise, that can mean a substantial lift to your bottom line, as well as greater preparation for those instances of both increased and reduced demand. While manufacturing automation is hardly a crystal ball, it can help you be more nimble in the face of certain challenges, and that can help reduce losses and enable you to quickly pivot when circumstances call for it.
Types of Manufacturing Automation
More specifically, manufacturing automation comes in three main types. There’s fixed automation, which deals primarily with a fixed task, large production volumes and a high barrier to entry. Sometimes fixed automation is referred to as hard automation, but, regardless of the term used, the idea is that the efficiencies generated are from revisiting and improving your individual machines. The production line may not significantly change via manufacturing automation services that are designed to root out improvements because the overall process is largely fixed, though there are various benefits to be realized.
Primarily intended for large producers that can’t afford any downtime during large production runs, fixed automation can be evaluated as sort of a stopgap until more efficient measures can be implemented.
For those that run smaller, lower volume production lines, programmable automation is a great way to bring the benefits of manufacturing automation to production runs that can benefit from incremental improvements in their capabilities. Rather than focusing exclusively on the individual machines that do much of the work, programmable automation seeks to improve batch production by overhauling most or all of your machines with better software and programmable capabilities that can help increase production and the ability to create new parts and products quickly.
With programmable automation, manufacturers have an increased ability to shift production capabilities and to iteratively improve products more easily, though downtime can be a real concern when machines are taken offline for improvements and upgrades.
Compared to the other types of manufacturing automation, however, there’s one that sits head and shoulders above the rest: flexible automation. Instead of requiring the downtime of fixed automation or the limited benefits of programmable automation, flexible automation makes complicated, in-place upgrades possible, thereby negating downtime while also increasing efficiency. Unlike the downtime and challenges of other forms of manufacturing automation, flexible automation efficiencies can often be developed offline and introduced live when it’s time for integration.
Examples of Automation in Manufacturing
With fixed automation, improvements typically come from enhancing existing production capabilities by increasing the ability of specific machines, such as in doubling production for a machine that may produce one part crucial to your overall process. It’s the most limited of the three types, but it also requires the least amount of prep, making it ideal for large-scale production that may not be able to integrate more comprehensive improvements.
On the other hand, programmable automation may allow a machine to be tooled for another purpose, giving it the ability to produce various parts and enabling you to get more out of your existing machines without the expenditure and complexity of integrating new machines and processes. Unfortunately, the drawback of programmable automation is that it typically requires downtime so that some kind of changeover can happen.
But when it comes to flexible automation, you’ll get real-time and on-demand production capabilities without the need for associated downtime or other challenges. That makes it ideal for anyone that wants more out of their production floors, and it’s all part of the manufacturing automation services that many companies are using to help them do more while spending less time and money.
Advantages of Automation in Manufacturing
While many manufacturers are increasing their focus on precision, consistency and operational efficiency, manufacturing automation helps you do precisely that. But without defined goals, it can be difficult to implement the proper solutions that will have the biggest impact. Something as generic as increasing production can be a viable mantra, but it’s not exactly a goal unless you can tie the things that affect production to it. That’s where improvements like sensors and other monitoring equipment comes into play — as well as the capability to ingest that information — to help you identify the areas where improvements are needed, thereby giving you the ability to specifically target certain needs.
However, with a proper understanding of goals and the means to get there, manufacturing automation services can help reduce downtime, as well as improving the data and information you rely on so that you can make better decisions and allow for more predictable downtime. When materials can be monitored before they run out of stock, it’s easy to order more or to shift production capabilities to something else before the issue hits, saving both money and time under better management of it all.
The best part is that manufacturing automation services can help track performance and keep scheduled maintenance and other improvements for when it’s least likely to affect production, driving better decision making and more accurate timelines according to the things that actually drive your business. Not only will that help you develop more predictable processes, but it can also help reduce production variance moving forward.
For more on how manufacturing automation services can help your manufacturing business, contact the experts at EAD.