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Bringing in Automation: Considerations and the Design Process

Discussions of automation, for many, often call to mind claims of “robots taking jobs” and anxieties over the state of labor as technology continues to develop rapidly. Despite its numerous advantages and the success seen in its implementation in various industries thus far, it is still often approached with trepidation. Still, it remains an attractive option for companies looking to reduce costs, improve efficiency, better allocate labor, and more.

Primary Motivators

Driving the recent push for innovations in automation are three key factors, each of which should be weighed when deciding whether or not to pursue automated processes yourself, the most significant being the production of high-quality parts more consistently and at a lower cost. Each time a robot performs a task, it does so to the exact specifications laid out in its programming; it does not deviate from this code and lacks the capacity for error seen with humans, ensuring that each part is free of defects and quality remains uniform across batches.

The second advantage of automation lies in its ability to relieve human operators of repetitive, physically taxing tasks and redirect them to positions where human capabilities are better applied, providing an alternative solution to labor-related issues such as high costs and shortages, both of which businesses today are intimately familiar. Finally, because robots can operate much faster than is humanly possible, automation offers increases in manufacturing speeds and production rates that can reduce time-adjacent costs and potentially reduce time to market. Considering these benefits, implementing automation in specific processes makes sense, virtually a no-brainer.

That said, there are cases in which particular processes may not be the best candidates for automation. This often occurs when, upon initial quality inspection, the profile or geometry of a part is exceedingly complex, requiring very specific equipment to produce. It may also happen if the manufacturer intends to make parts in low volumes, e.g., one thousand parts per year. In both cases, automating processes is considered inadvisable as the cost of investment in doing so will likely far exceed the expected return.

Partnering and Creating with EirMed

When working with clients on projects of this nature, EirMed’s primary goal is producing results precisely in line with their expectations, forming a partnership culminating in better, more cost-efficient parts with a higher potential for success. The nature of this partnership is primarily delineated by the level of investment that may be expected of the client, something dependent on the scale of the project and its applicability to other manufacturing programs. Some clients may be seeking a customized process, one highly specific to the exact part or product being made with low or no potential to be utilized in other programs. In these cases, clients are typically asked to, at minimum, participate in the investment made towards that technology, if not take it on in its entirety. In contrast, some clients seek automated processes that can be applied to multiple programs and deployed to produce various parts. It is here that EirMed is most likely to share in or make the investment towards completing the project. At EirMed, our primary role and objective in client partnerships are to provide the best foundation possible for success on the market; these relationships may be tailored on a case-by-case basis to do so while ensuring that the arrangement is best suited to the individual client’s needs.

Moving ahead with an automated project requires its associated machinery to have three primary capabilities— repeatability, reliability, and the ability to produce high-quality parts. While speed is a welcome bonus and is nearly always seen with automated processes, creating the best quality parts and doing so consistently remains a top priority. Even if only a single part in a batch of hundreds turns out low-quality or defective, steps are taken to troubleshoot the issue and create solutions to prevent such happenings in the future. While acceptable percentages of error may exist with some products, these are dictated by customer specifications that are followed strictly to the letter. Safety factors are also implemented to provide a buffer between provided requirements and the actual production target, further ensuring that the resulting product meets the needs and desires of the customer.

Developing and implementing automated systems is an involved one and can be challenging to navigate without the proper knowledge and resources. If you are looking to bring your ideas into reality, partnering with EirMed will provide access to the capabilities, experience, and expertise to carry them from the drawing board into manufacturing facilities. Design and design revisions may be addressed per customer request, after which they are used to create a 3D visualization of the proposed automation cell. Components, both fully custom and aluminum extrusion assemblies, are then fabricated at EirMed’s in-house machine shop, allowing the assembly to begin. After this phase, our capabilities in wiring, Internet of Things (IoT) systems, and programming can be deployed to bring the cell to life finally. A partnership with EirMed also provides in-house access to a range of manufacturers and vendors such as Allen-Bradley, Pro-face, BRX, and Kollmorgen, among other significant players in industrial control.

A Picture of Custom Automation

All this said, what does a successful automation project look like? One example of a custom automation cell developed and currently deployed at EirMed utilizes a FANUC LR Mate Robot to remove parts from their press and put them through complex processing procedures. Fitted with a custom end effector, or end of arm tooling, this machine moves unmolded lenses through a cooling cycle using air blasts, then presents it to the device responsible for applying a thin film of the necessary coating. Once the film has had a brief resting period, it is then taken to an ultraviolet curing station and set aside for a second, longer cooling delay. Finally, parts are subjected to a quality inspection to ensure the coating has been appropriately applied before being pushed to operators for packaging. Notably, this automation cell also operates in a cleanroom environment, with a dedicated HEPA filter installed directly. This case offers a perfect example of manufacturing processes highly suited to automation— while relieving human operators of a repetitive, demanding task, it also offers precision, accuracy, and speed beyond what those operators are physically capable of.

Considering the benefits automated processes offer to businesses, laborers, and manufacturers, it is easy to see how automation continues to thrive despite its stigma. With companies increasingly considering moving operations offshore to manage labor and costs, automation is a viable alternative that would allow these companies to continue manufacturing in the US, cutting shipping costs and improving time to market. This is only one example of the vast array of cases and tasks with high potential for successful and beneficial automated processes. Whether you have an existing design or have a problem automation may be able to solve, EirMed is prepared to offer the best support possible in implementing these systems and achieving positive results.