Manufacturing automation is trickling down from the massive automotive assembly lines toward the “mom and pop” machine shop. As you take your first look at automation, consider the benefits of and barriers to this technology.
Traditional automation requires a large upfront investment in dedicated equipment that takes months or even years to implement. Expanding automated solutions to more manufacturers doesn’t just require a better mousetrap, but also a paradigm shift to break down the old barriers. Systems integrators are creating solutions for manufacturers that reduce initial investment, shorten implementation times and allow for greater flexibility from the get-go.
One such solution for machine tending and assembly applications can be found in the Redeployable Robot (RR) design from Red Rabbit Automation. With standardized components, the RR reduces initial investment and implementation time. The robot grippers and part stands can be retooled just like a machine tool, making this automation solution a piece of capital equipment that is not dedicated to a single part or machine. Modular parts like drawer systems, conveyors, camera systems, and part washers are designed to perform reliably and be general enough so they can be easily and quickly arranged in the frame and operate with a range of part geometries.
Automation beyond machine tending creates more value-add for manufacturers, especially those with long takt times. Inversion of the robot in the automated cell allows floor space to be used more efficiently for value-add operations like assembly, part washing, deburring and gaging.
Red Rabbit has created automated cells for manufacturers supplying Toyota, Honda, Subaru, and Caterpillar. A machine shop was able to add assembly to the end of its machining process and move from a Tier Two to a Tier One supplier to Toyota. Another cell included a CMM to perform 100 percent quality control of a Honda component with tight tolerances on a large diameter. Machining at a Tier One Subaru supplier requires 15 CNC machines and can run with two operators. Lastly, Caterpillar valves with long takttimes are being automatically loaded and deburred.
The productization of custom automation like the RR unit can cut project lead times in half. Batch purchasing of components, reduced design time and reusable robot programs are all cost savings that are passed onto the manufacturer. This model reduces barriers to entry for mid-sized manufacturers, bringing automation into the discussion for new and existing production alike.
Evaluating Return on Investment
A great systems integrator does not exclusively build machines; they are also educators to their customers on what automation helps solve an immediate problem for the greatest return. Red Rabbit Automation has created a Return on Investment (ROI) tool to quantify the unique benefits of automation for a given project, including increased production, improved quality, reduced labor costs, improved safety and more. Understanding the financial ramifications of a project one, five and 10 years down the road is critical when comparing large-scale projects.
As barriers to entry continue to decline, automation is becoming a viable option for more manufacturers. Understanding the hard and soft costs and benefits that come with automation is critical, and systems integrators can help. As you take your first steps toward automation, good partnerships can take much of the mystery and worry out of the process.
Editor’s Note: The author will be making a presentation on Factory Automation at HOUSTEX at the George R. Brown Convention Center, Houston, on Tuesday, Feb. 26, at 10:30 a.m. For information, go to houstexonline.com.