Of all the industries hit hard by COVID-19 and its consequences, manufacturing, and supply were undoubtedly subjected to the most pressure. As demand for bare essentials skyrocketed and e-Commerce boomed, even the most steady supply chain operations struggled under the weight of time, cost, and logistical restraints. This period of high stress has shown that speed and stability in the manufacturing process are crucial if one is to survive. Automation has proven itself to be one of the most effective tools for improving production times and ensuring smooth operation. Yet, where and when to implement this technology, weighing time and cost investments against returns, is key to utilizing it to its full effect.
Identifying Type and Place
Determining what kind of automation is suitable for a project and where and when to implement it is a process of evaluating various details of both the part in the production and the procedures it must undergo. There are a few significant determiners for identifying automation potential; the first of these is the part’s geometry, typically examined using CAD drawings and, later, 3D printed models. This allows engineers to answer questions such as how a part will be moved and what type of quality inspections should be in place, such as visual detection systems. The volume of parts planned to be produced is also an important consideration, taking into account the number of parts and the production speed required to deliver supply to customers. Finally, processing requirements are also examined, as some parts may be processed immediately after production.
In contrast, others may be packaged and moved to a second location, such as a cleanroom, for processing. In some cases, the press itself may be in a cleanroom. Internally, this process begins with EirMed’s manufacturing engineers collaborating with the client to develop the part and solidify the design. The resulting mold from this process then allows for the proper evaluation of automation potential.
The Projected Future of Robotics and Automation
EirMed continuously seeks out the newest and most advanced technologies to bring customers the best recommendations toward utilizing automation to update, streamline, and improve their production processes. One such technology in use at EirMed facilities today is collaborative robotics, a field that has experienced rapid growth and advancement in recent years. Unlike traditional industrial robots, which are carefully sectioned off from human operators, collaborative robots, often known as cobots, are designed to work close to humans. This is made possible through extensive safety and detection measures, including static, impact, and overload detection, ensuring that operators are protected from injury due to robotic malfunction. These machines may work fully alongside operators on the same task, work sequentially to complete various steps, or share a workspace with humans where an industrial robot could not, allowing for applications in open environments. Utilizing cobots decreases production time and cost investments and, notably, is often far more lucrative than traditional bots.
As the third industrial revolution comes to a close and the fourth comes underway, the future of robotics and automation is brighter than ever. Artificial intelligence is a rapidly advancing field, while the internet of things (IoT) systems are becoming increasingly commonplace in industrial settings. Already, EirMed employs an AI-supported high-end visioning system that detects the viability of parts and ensures each passes quality inspection. AI applications such as these can significantly affect cases of high volume, where the speed it offers supports increased output and long-term growth. At the same time, the burden it removes from the workforce allows manual labor to be allocated to lower volume projects.
Moving forward, it is speculated that “lights-out manufacturing,” a method in which all manufacturing processes in a facility are fully automated, will rise significantly in popularity in years to come. These systems require zero human operators to be on-site to function correctly, and their increased prevalence will undoubtedly drive rapid and substantial innovations in the various fields of automation technology.
COVID-19 proved that stability and speed are crucial to maintaining efficient supply chains that may reliably deliver products to those in need in the manufacturing world. Automation and robotics are valuable tools capable of making powerful improvements in these areas— when applied in the correct places, at the proper times. EirMed continues to invest in technologies such as cobots and advanced high-end visioning systems, which support swift production by supplementing the human workforce and ensuring quality without the need for inspectors. In addition, our automation engineers are on standby to evaluate automation potential within projects and advise and collaborate with clients to apply these advancements effectively.