Automation has revolutionized manufacturing across all industries over the past two decades, with factories of all sizes increasingly using robots to perform routine tasks with higher efficiency and quality. If you are a plant owner or manager, you likely have already heard about the benefits of automation with regards to increasing productivity, speeding up production cycles, reducing waste, and more. Plus, with the cost of robots decreasing year-over-year, it’s never been more affordable to implement cutting-edge automation.
But how do you know when your plant is actually ready to automate?
While the many advantages of automation may be clear, it’s often much more difficult to know if your manufacturing factory is ready to begin the full transformation from manual to automatic. The switch to automation does require an investment in new technology, and it’s important to evaluate the status of your business before you embark on an investment that may fundamentally change the way your factory operates. To help you navigate this important decision, here are 6 clear signs that your plant may be ready to automate:
Safety should always come first. Many repetitive and dangerous manual tasks that were previously being completed by factory workers can now be safely automated using industrial robots. If your factory potentially exposes workers to the risk of injury, especially due to repetitive tasks that can be completed by robots, it’s highly recommended to begin the process of automation. Not only will this help make your workplace a safer environment for all employees, but it will also help empower your employees to work on higher-value tasks that are much more engaging and valuable for your organization.
The good news is that if your business is in this situation, then it means that your manufacturing product is in high demand. However, not being able to meet that demand can put your business at a tremendous disadvantage compared to global competitors that are already highly-automated. This is particularly true for large contract opportunities that usually require minimum production volumes and compliance checks. Without having automation in place, it’s unlikely that your factory will be able to meet increased demand using manual labor alone. This is exacerbated by the fact that there is a significant skilled manufacturing labor shortage in the industry today, and skilled robotics workers are extremely hard to find. Industrial robots and collaborative robots (cobots) can assuage the skill gap and give factories the added benefit of 24/7 production. If your manufacturing plant is at the inflection point of wanting to meet significantly higher levels of demand, it could be time to automate
Operating in a high-mix environment can be extremely challenging across all industries, especially without automation in place. Frequent changes to the product mix typically require significant lead time for factory workers to learn new product requirements, change factory processes, and ensure consistent quality measures are in place. In order to compete effectively in today’s global marketplace, it’s critical that businesses are able to innovate and adapt quickly to outpace competition, and this is much more easily accomplished with the help of industrial robots. Using simple robotic programming like that which is available through Forge/OS, production operators can reprogram and retrain robots in minutes – without any coding needed – to learn new product requirements and ship new product mixes. If your factory is struggling to keep up with product change requests, this is another strong sign that the plant is ready to begin automation.
If your manufacturing plant is trying to meet increased customer demands without automation, then it’s possible that the level of quality per unit is decreasing as a result of increased pressure on human workers. It’s often not possible to expect workers to adhere to strict levels of quality and precision in the same manner in which a robot can operate. Additionally, without robotic automation, it may not be possible to meet compliance standards that are often required by large production contracts. To avoid unhappy customers and partners, high-volume manufacturers should embrace automation to ensure consistently high levels of product quality.
Most manufacturing plants have finite factory floor space for all production activities. By switching to industrial automation, manufacturers can reduce the required factory floor space needed for production and thus free up floor space for other operations. The entire production line can be optimized as the footprint of work areas are reduced and reallocated to incremental activities. If your manufacturing plant is dealing with limited or scarce factory space, it may be because you had initially underestimated the business’ growth potential. Strong manufacturing growth and the corresponding need for more floor space is likely a sign that your plant is ready for automation to help ensure the best use of available real estate.
Are you noticing that your plant tends to waste product materials throughout the production line? Despite enforcing high standards of material use, manual production processes can often result in imprecise use of costly materials, where the scraps of production could have been used more efficiently. With automation, industrial robots can be precisely programmed to ensure that all production materials are used to their maximum capacity with minimal waste. If your plant is looking to minimize material costs by making sure that waste is reduced throughout all aspects of production, it is a surefire sign that your business is ready to consider automation.
Deciding to transform your manufacturing plant with automation can be difficult, but the end results are often well worth these difficulties. As your manufacturing plant continues to review its readiness for automation, keep in mind both the present and future potential benefits of industrial robots. In addition to solving current factory issues, adopting industrial automation can propel businesses to new global markets that may otherwise have been unreachable, which can substantially help grow your business over the long-term.
To help transition your manufacturing plant, implementing robots in only select areas of the production line may be a great way to begin automation. Consider the areas of production that would be most valuable and easiest for your organization to automate and start there. The next step would be to calculate the ROI of the specific robots you’re interested in implementing and ensure that they actually meet your needs. The great news is that according to the Robotics Industries Association, recouping the cost of an automated robot and realizing a profit can be made on average within two years. This ROI timeframe can be shortened further by using tools like READY’s Forge suite of products, which can help to significantly lower costs and speed up robotic deployments.