Manufacturing facilities are becoming more automated, with more manufacturers adopting smart technologies, and driving the industry towards a future of manufacturing automation. Fully automated processes and production lines are being implemented throughout manufacturing companies and plants to help improve efficiency and maintain productivity despite the industry’s worker shortage.
The future of industry will have even more automation, with lights-out manufacturing eventually becoming the norm. Facilities that employ the lights-out manufacturing methodology are fully automated and can fulfill production needs without needing on-site human workers. These autonomous factories are the future of manufacturing.
Considerations for Adopting Automation Technologies
Though many manufacturers have implemented automated technologies into operations, there is still a barrier to automation for some small and medium-sized manufacturers. The main hurdle for these companies is the up-front cost of automation. The cost of large industrial robots is significant. The price of these automated robots starts around $50,000 usually but can commonly jump to as high as $150,000 when all is said and done, and there are even more expensive options as well.
To overcome this many smaller manufacturers who are interested in implementing automation have found alternative solutions. One is to buy used industrial robots, which are much more cost-effective. Used robots have a starting price around $25,000, then with additional systems and components the price ends up being somewhere between $50,000 to $75,000.
Though the price of used industrial robots is cheaper, it can still be prohibitively high for some manufacturers. Another automation option for these companies is cobots, also known as collaborative robots. Cobots can be a lot less expensive in general, with starting prices as low as $10,000. However, the average price is likely closer to $30,000. Even though some large industrial robots have starting prices lower than a cobots, robots still have more associated integration costs, making cobots the more affordable option.
Aside from price, there are also other considerations around adopting automation technologies. A manufacturer must take stock of their current production processes to determine where automation would make the most impact. What process or task could they automate that would most benefit their business? It could be a large part of production or several small tasks. Manufacturers must determine what would improve productivity the most, what they can afford, and what will result in the best return on investment.
Even starting with some simple automation can greatly improve a businesses’ operations. Manufacturing is heading towards full automation, and to ensure their company won’t get left behind, manufacturers must focus on adopting and/or expanding automation technologies at their facility.
The Benefits of Automation Technologies
Manufacturers know they need automation to stay relevant in the age of Industry 4.0 and advanced manufacturing, but what benefits are these technologies providing to their business? As with any smart technology, automation can be incredibly beneficial when integrated properly into current production operations, as opposed to just having automation for the sake of it.
Using automation to fulfill a business need and drive productivity will provide the most benefits to manufacturers. Aside from just a good return on investment, automation technologies can improve nearly every aspect of production operations.
The most obvious benefit is an increase in productivity. Automation technologies can take over time-consuming manual tasks, which is especially useful given the current worker shortage the manufacturing industry is facing. Not only can these tasks be automated, but automated systems can also perform the tasks more efficiently. This increases the overall labor productivity of human and robot workers as well as speeds up the rate of production. Automation can also take on dangerous tasks, making the workplace safer and helping to protect human workers.
Many manufacturers implement automation for these obvious benefits, but there are longer-term benefits that they don’t think about up front. Namely that automating a facility improves operations and products so much that it eventually equates to higher sales, more profit, and increased customer satisfaction. Potential customers are starting to expect automation when partnering with manufacturers, which is why succeeding with this smart technology is necessary for the future of manufacturing businesses.
Prepare for Lights-Out Manufacturing
The future of manufacturing automation is steering the industry towards lights out factories. To be successful in this future, manufacturers need to start expanding their automation capabilities now. Though few facilities have achieved true lights-out manufacturing, many manufacturers see these types of factories as a solution to the challenges facing the industry today.
It’s important to ensure current automation technologies are helping achieve business goals, but manufacturers also need to have a long-term strategy and roadmap focused on expanding their automation capabilities. Getting on the path to a lights-out manufacturing facility will help manufacturers be successful in the evolving industrial sector.
To learn more about how your business can succeed when it comes to the future of manufacturing automation, attend SOUTHTEC.