6 Areas To Introduce Manufacturing Automation

By: William Delong - Guest Contributor on January 2, 2023

Production and manufacturing automation has been around in some way since Henry Ford introduced the assembly line in 1913. Since then, machines and manufacturing have become increasingly complex.

One commonality between Ford's original automation and today's complex machines? Production lines still have a series of repeatable, task-based roles. This means that the more companies can automate, the more labor costs they save and the safer operations become.

Hyper-automation represents the next generation of manufacturing automation. If you're a plant manager, line engineer, or business owner, read on for a deep dive into the benefits and scope of manufacturing automation and six key areas where manufacturers should implement hyper-automation.

What is hyper-automation?

Hyper-automation is a class of advanced technologies that can automate tasks requiring judgment, decision-making, or human interaction at any point along the production line.

Let's use a worker-staffed production line as an example where employees inspect fruits and vegetables moving along a conveyor belt toward washing and processing. Hyper-automation would use technology such as a machine-learning visual inspection system to deliver faster and better quality-management results than human eyes and judgment alone. Automation uses a combination of digital optics and programmable parameters to ascertain the viability of the products on the line. The system would then accept or reject the items.

Manufacturing automation: 6 reasons you need it

Manufacturing automation has long been a hallmark of production facilities. While automakers like Ford pioneered new machines, nearly every manufacturer can benefit from automation.

1. Labor cost savings

Machines can do the work of several humans, saving labor costs associated with multiple employees doing the same amount of work. This type of automation can save businesses money otherwise spend on salaries, benefits, retirement, PTO, and health insurance.

2. Decreasing robot prices

As more and larger companies invest in new manufacturing automation technologies, prices will come down, and competition will increase. This change will make investing in robots more affordable for many smaller businesses.

3. Easier automation integration

With IoT devices, APIs, low-code and no-code programming, and cloud-based systems, integrating manufacturing automation is easier than ever. To integrate automation technology, facilities need the proper telecommunications infrastructure, hardware, and software to handle associated workloads.

4. Increased capacity and productivity

Faster processes lead to increased capacity, shorter production times, and more products made over the same timeframe.

5. Improved quality and consistency

Machines are excellent at carrying out repeatable tasks that have a specific set of standards or tolerances, and can spot defects consistently to ensure final product quality.

6. Boosted agility and flexibility

One key benefit of hyper-automation, specifically, is its agility and flexibility in handling multiple tasks or having one machine work on more than one production line. In this area, portable robots can carry out functions previously reserved for staff members by manipulating and tweaking other machines to ensure they work within their parameters.

6 tasks where you can implement hyper-automation in manufacturing to remain competitive

A comprehensive Gartner study highlights six key areas where manufacturers should implement hyper-automation by 2025 to remain competitive.[1] According to this study, by 2024 65% of organizations will implement some form of machine learning or AI-based manufacturing automation.

Let's break down those key areas to consider hyper-automation for your business.

1. Production scheduling

According to Gartner's survey, as many as 64% of manufacturers will use wholly digital, automated production scheduling systems by 2025. These tools manage what lines need to run and when, how many people need to work each shift, and the resources needed to complete each run in the most economical way possible.

2. Quality management

Visual inspection systems can spot and reject defects more efficiently than human line workers, resulting in higher-quality batches and increased customer satisfaction with end products. Gartner expects as many as 59% of manufacturers to fully automate their QA by 2025, up from 39% in 2020.

3. Reporting/KPI management

Nearly two-thirds (65%) of companies in Gartner's survey plan to fully automate reporting and KPI management by 2025. From vendor management and procurement to accounts receivable and customer relationship management, these platforms derive insights from every possible data point to be able to predict production outcomes up to 30 days in advance.

4. Materials handling/logistics

Around half (52%) of companies in Gartner's survey say they will fully automate materials handling and logistics by 2025. GPS and cameras on wheeled devices can move pallets of products to and from storage areas, load them onto trucks, and make the manufacturing workplace safer overall.

5. Changeovers

In 2020, just 27% of changeovers had full automation. That number is expected to nearly double to 52% by 2025, making the changeover process more efficient as equipment uses automation to move from one section to another, resulting in less downtime.

6. Lean and continuous improvement

Companies must continue to improve their processes, and manufacturing automation will play a key role in this for businesses over the coming years. The more processes that businesses can automate now, the easier it will be to increase their output and overall automation later due to machines' ability to build on one another.

Tips for implementing hyper-automation in manufacturing

Hyper-automation principles will lead the way to faster, improved manufacturing processes and doesn't always mean decreased staff or layoffs. Automation can also lead to increased sales and revenue, leading to a need for more machines and more customer service representatives to handle inquiries, representing a workforce shift from production to customer service.

Start by investigating technologies that increase process efficiency to improve productivity. Then, retrain the workers you have on hand to maintain and fix machines, and reprioritize staff innovation in relevant areas to meet your business needs.

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