Manufacturing Automation: 3 Key Technologies for Improved Safety and ROI
Manufacturing is without doubt one of the largest economic sectors, contributing 11% of total GDP in the U.S. Like several markets, manufacturers felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and are trying to reach pre-pandemic levels. Manufacturing processes are being forced to be reviewed for more efficient and leaner operations, to accommodate employment challenges and improve labor safety, all while keeping operating costs low and return on investment high.
Compact and scalable automation options are trending across consumer-facing markets like grocery and retail but when it comes to manufacturing, leading advanced technologies are also proving to be foundational for future growth.
Automating a Manufacturing Process
While cost, downtime and inefficiency are at the core of most industry conversations, the manufacturing industry faces unique challenges that impact quality control, labor training, and material inventory management. Add to that safety protocols – for heavy lifting, material exposure, or social distancing, for example. And, with today’s market climate, a fast implementation and high positive impact is crucial. I connected with Bastian Solutions experts, here are some of today’s leading manufacturing automation solutions:
Industrial Robotic Solutions
“With the rising concerns of balancing labor and automation, robots are allowing companies to adapt to customer and business changes. ??These robotic systems provide high reliability and a consistent workforce for production,” says Steven Hogg, Bastian Solutions Robotics Applications Manager.
“Robots are multi-functional and allow for various cell design footprints to provide flexibility in the design process. ?Integration of robotic systems allows a company to increase throughputs, while maintaining social distancing requirements and best safety practices. This focus on increased workplace safety and improved production capabilities have further driven the manufacturing industry to invest in robotic systems.”
- Machine Tending – Machine tending can be dangerous work and requires precision. Machine tending robots can be used to secure products from a supply position, transport it to a machine, interact with the machine and also remove finished parts. They are equipped to be in heavy-equipment environments and can feature custom designed end of arm tools to support operations around CNC milling, welding, mold-product loading and unloading, and much more.
- Palletizing – Palletizing robots can also handle pallets, slip sheets and tier sheets for completely automatic pallet building and depalletizing operations. The robots can be sized for their exact application and programmed for different size products. Like machine tending robots, robotic applications in palletizing and depalletizing help automate repetitive tasks and reduce the labor requirements for operations that require heavy, unwieldly product movement. Additionally, this solution can help automate product tracking and throughput speed with longer uptime for 24/7 operations.
“When the standard catalog conveyor options do not meet the specifications or the application is outside of their capability, then a custom solution is needing to be designed, built, and integrated onsite. We often get asked by our customers to help them eliminate fork truck traffic or suspended loads from cranes in an effort to improve plant safety. In those cases, we develop the automated material movement, but without the danger to the operators,” says Nathan Richter, Bastian Solutions Director of Applications.
“We’ve handled everything from recycled lead ingots to large jet engines and installed equipment in clean rooms and radiation bunkers. We also bring flexibility to the solution by being able to design and build using customer driven specifications that often dictate the types of components we use or the software we use to bring the equipment to life.”
- Standard Conveyor – Today conveyor solutions, whether it’s managing heavy, unwieldly products and materials, or pallets, feature a variety of technology options to help ensure reliable product transport. Some examples include standard drag chain conveyors which can be used in high temp areas and are simple, cost-effective design to slat conveyors which can convey hot or oily parts, and support processes in harsh environments.
- Custom Conveyor – However, when out-of-the-box conveyor options can’t adequately address the complexities involved in product or material transport in the manufacturing industry, custom conveyor options are worth a review. Some considerations when exploring a custom automation solution include custom dimensions, unique pallet bottom configurations, navigating unique facility routes or specific environmental compatibility (hot, wet, oily, additional protection from marring).
Automated Guided Vehicles
“Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) are one of the most flexible automation tools to manage business growth and market fluctuations. AGVs offer manufacturers a highly flexible assembly line that can shrink or expand when needed without the high cost of moving fixed equipment such as slat conveyors. Tooling for holding your products can be mixed into your AGV fleet allowing for easy model mix changes to support demand,” says Michael Marcum, Bastian Solutions Engineering Manager of Autonomous Vehicles.
“AGV assembly lines can be synchronous or asynchronous indexing lines or continuous moving lines. Since product quality is important to your business, AGVs can be interlocked with your MES (Manufacturing Execution System) to ensure each workstation is installing the correct components and all critical checks are logged before the AGV is allowed to move the product forward in your system. AGVs are safe, reliable, flexible and support high quality manufacturing. AGVs may just be the solution you’ve been looking for to support your manufacturing.”
- AGV Manufacturing Solutions – Tunnel AGVs, automated guided carts (AGCs) and tuggers are designed to transport carts carrying a variety of payloads around manufacturing and distribution facilities. These industrial automation solutions excel in high volume scenarios where materials are moved in repetitive paths. They’re ideal where a permanent fixture, like conveyor, is undesirable, and offers easy, fast scalability.
- Custom AGV Designs – Additionally, custom frames, toppers and pickup and drop-off stations can integrate with AGV and AMR (Autonomous Mobile Robots) systems for even more effective use. Some application examples include:
- Frame designs for line-side delivery of specific manufacturing components
- Conveyor topper designs that range from handling low weight totes to pallets over 1,000 lbs.
- Lifting topper designs that can lift over 2,000 lbs.
Achieve Manufacturing Flexibility
Whether it’s a robotic solution, custom conveyor, an automated guided vehicle or a combination solution for your manufacturing processes, our engineers can help review and analyze your current challenges as well as your business objectives. Finding the right level of automation is equally crucial to identifying the right technology for the job.
If you’re ready to find your solution, talk to a Bastian Solutions engineer today about how we can find the right material handling and manufacturing technology to help give you a competitive edge.
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