There exist many reasons why manufacturers are adopting automated processes, though we should look past just cost savings. Savings can be achieved, in many ways, across several areas within an operation.
‘Future proofing’ is a term that has been widely used recently, certainly within the context of business owners ensuring they remain competitive around industry 4.0. and digital manufacturing. Though what does it really mean? It’s very simple; the manufacturing environment is evolving, as technological advancements within robotics shape the applications that can be applied to an existing operation.
Consider the IoT, autonomous mobile robotics, collaborative robotics, unfenced industrial robots and asset data management via the cloud; these are all tools readily available to manufacturers, to support the implementation of automated solutions that will not need to be significantly updated as technology advances, or ‘future proofing’.
Robot process automation grew significantly in 2016, some 20-30% quarter on quarter; a trend set to continue throughout 2017 as SME’s and smaller businesses adopt automated processes for the first time, not just as a means to simplify their operations, but to set a clear road map towards future growth through increased product throughput, improved quality output and streamlined operational processes.
There does however still seem to be a reluctance to invest in automated processes. The initial investment can be substantial, though in view of the returns that can be achieved, any investment will pay for itself; that is clear. There is also a misconception that by adopting automated processes means removing a manual handling element of an operation. This is not the case. Whilst robotic technology is evolving, we are a long way off replacing humans with robots or AI.
There will always remain the need for a manual element within any operation and robots in today’s manufacturing environment should be seen as complimenting existing manual processes.
The adoption of automated processes, as touched upon above, can increase product throughput. A prime example would be ZND. The Rotherham based business specialise in temporary fencing, hoarding and pedestrian barriers; those used at summer festivals, such as Glastonbury. Since the implementation of automated robotics, in this case two automated welding cells, ZND have seen production increase by a staggering 400%.
Having adopted automated processes, not only have ZND seen a vast increase in the production of their product, the quality of the finished product has improved driving demand which in turn has supported an increase in manpower required to manage the high volumes, onwards distribution and of course manage the automated lines.
Having briefly touched upon a reluctance to embrace automated processes in favour of manual process; man power, we should highlight just how automated solutions can not only provide returns to businesses, but how employees can also benefit.
If we consider manufacturing environments and the tasks applicable to operations within this market, it soon becomes clear just how relevant automation can be. Consider repetitive manual processes, tedious tasks and those activities that initiate bending or twisting movements. Such tasks and movements put unnecessary strain on a human. Over sustained periods of time performance shall digress, the level of accuracy applied to a task shall wain as will the concentration needed to safely complete a given task. Factor into the same equation costs associated with employees taking sick leave due to injuries and/or strains and the cost to the employer that might result from RSI claims or similar.
Now we’re not discrediting the manual/human element of an operation. By implementing automated robotics into a business we are not omitting roles, simply redefining them, creating new roles around the robotic element; automated processes still need to be managed.
The loss of an employee is disruptive and detrimental to any production line, especially so as product throughput is integral to the success of any business, more so SME’s who may not necessarily have a contingency plan to deal with loss of profit, or employee.
Business owners could be forgiven for thinking that automation means robots throughout their operation, but this is not the case. With a little planning and some expert advice it is relatively easy to identify where and how automated processes can be implemented to add value, at specific points throughout a manufacturing or production process, paving the way for increased product throughput whilst retaining the manual element of their operations. Automated solutions are also, more often than not scalable, so business owners are able to automate as much, or as little as necessary to the success of their operations, making the initial investment easier to manage, but the results more evident.
As consumer demand increases and manufacturers look at ways to reduce production costs and remain competitive in an ever evolving market, the adoption of automation shall continue to rise.
KUKA Robotics UK
T: 0121 505 9970