Implementing automation solutions into manufacturing operations often has a significant return on investment. Not only does automation increase productivity, but it also helps make manufacturing facilities more adaptable, allowing manufacturers to leverage this technology during market changes or disruptions.
In the fourth industrial revolution, advanced manufacturing technologies like automation are becoming necessary for manufacturers to continue to thrive. There are multiple manufacturing automation solutions available to help manufacturers improve operations, but what’s best for each company will depend on its business goals and strategies. Learn more about automation solutions and which option might be right for your manufacturing facility.
Cobots and Robots
Large industrial robots are a common sight on manufacturing production lines. Some facilities even use these robots throughout the whole production process. Aside from assembling products on the production line, robots can be used in manufacturing for material handling, machine tending, packaging and other functions.
Automating production lines increases productivity and decreases product waste. Robots run 24/7, work at a consistent speed, and make fewer mistakes. All of this makes robots an effective automation solution for manufacturing facilities, as well as a common one.
Despite their prevalence in manufacturing facilities, these large robots aren’t always the best automation technology for every task. For manufacturers who require more flexibility, there are cobots. Cobots, or collaborative robots, are automated robots that can more easily work alongside humans on a factory floor — they don’t require safety fences or other means of separation that are needed with large industrial robots.
Aside from being able to work safely next to humans, cobots are easily reprogrammable, and can be programmed to do new production tasks if necessary. This additional functionality is especially useful for manufacturers with multiple product lines, who can switch cobot functionality to meet fluctuating demand.
Automated Manufacturing Systems
Automated manufacturing systems are an automation solution for manufacturers looking to fully automate their facilities. These fully automated manufacturing plants still have human workers, but the employees work on equipment maintenance and control systems programming. Meanwhile, the automated systems are managing the production process.
Computer systems control the machines within automated manufacturing systems. Aside from controlling machinery, these systems can also schedule production tasks and maintenance, as well as monitor product quality. Manufacturers with this level of automation can easily manage production and use data to optimize operations in their facilities.
Robotic Process Automation
There’s more to the manufacturing process than production, and automation solutions also exist for other operations within facilities. Robotic process automation (RPA) is one of the most adopted technologies to automate tasks such as supplier communications, invoicing and payment processing, and inventory management. RPA helps to increase productivity and improve efficiency — just like automation technology on the production floor.
Though production automation depends on physical robots, RPA is a software that can automate mundane and repetitive tasks for manufacturing office workers. RPA is not the only automation software available, but it is one of the easiest to implement. Adopting RPA doesn’t require any coding skills; the software is a rules-based system that completes tasks based on a set of conditions. This software can also be implemented within legacy systems, making systems integrations easy.
RPA is especially useful for shipping and handling operations within manufacturing facilities. One process this software can effectively automate is purchase order creation — from collecting and analyzing the necessary data, to sending approval emails to leadership and generating the purchase order. This software is also a great addition to warehouses, where it can be used for inventory management. RPA technology can monitor inventory levels, alert workers to low inventory, and even order more products when inventory of a particular item goes under a set threshold.
Automating the Manufacturing Industry
Automation can be used throughout a manufacturing facility to improve operations. There are multiple options for increasing production, including the use of robots and cobots as well as other technologies, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning. And with software like RPA, just about every manual task within a manufacturing company can be automated.
But implementing automation is different for each manufacturer, and any new technologies added should further a business goal. You can learn more about which manufacturing automation solutions are a good fit for your company and meet with vendors who offer these technologies at WESTEC.