Automation in manufacturing can mean many things. From basic part loading and unloading functions to complete robotic cell systems, integrating automation into your manufacturing process can increase productivity and capacity while lowering overall labor costs. Below we break down nine different ways automation can be incorporated into manufacturing applications ranging from basic shuttle transfer systems to full-service robotic cells and everything in between. Investing in a robotic arm probably isn’t an option for all, but that doesn’t mean a solution doesn’t exist to ease pain points in your production process.
1. Basic Shuttle Automation
One of the simplest ways to add automation to your manufacturing process is through basic shuttles. In this application, the part is placed into the forming area of the machine on a single axis. This can be done via hydraulics, pneumatics, or servo depending on the application. This relieves an operator of the repetitive motion of moving parts in and out of a machine.
2. Process Automation
Process automation is a broad term that can apply to many things, but one example of a process we’ve automated for multiple customers is automatically sealing customer parts in Overton designed Leak Test Machines. Traditionally, parts might be sealed manually with rubber plugs. However, if cycle time is critical, automating that process can be an easy way to improve throughput while increasing accuracy.
3. Hoppers & Loaders
Nobody wants to be the person who simply loads part after part into a machine, and we’re sure managers would prefer for part loaders to utilize their skillsets in more valuable ways. In such instances, a hopper system might be the way to go. Hundreds of parts can be added at one time to a container that automatically and individually presents them for forming, or whatever manufacturing process is relevant. This might allow a single employee to oversee multiple machines or cells at the same time. Load up an hour’s worth of parts or more and walk away to the next task.
4. Automatic Ejection
Depending on the forming process, sometimes parts can get stuck. If this happens frequently, you don’t want an operator to have to mess with getting it un-stuck and affect cycle time. In this case, a simple auto-eject feature might be a great option. It can be as simple as a small pneumatic cylinder to push a part free, thus saving the operator from having to remove the part and start the process all over again.
5. Advanced Shuttle Automation
We’ve already discussed basic in-and-out shuttles, but what about something more complex? This combination trim and spin machine uses a dual shuttle to move parts between forming stations. Instead of manually removing a trimmed part only to reload it into the spinning side, this advanced shuttle system removes multiple manual steps from the operator and allows the part to be removed from the machine only once it is completely formed. Not only is it faster, it also holds radial orientation of the part and improves overall quality.
6. Conveyor Systems
In any manufacturing industry, transferring parts from station 1 to station 2 might require a forklift, and let’s be honest, that’s not always convenient. Incorporating a conveyor system for part transfer will prevent unnecessary movement and make happier operators. Rather than lifting parts time after time, pushing them down the line to the next station is a much more ergonomic way to take care of critical employees. Less strain on the employee means more productivity.
7. Rotary Indexing Units
In multiple situations, rotary indexing units can be beneficial for saving time and other resources. From utilizing the indexing head for multiple hits on a single part to allowing for flexibility in forming multiple part numbers, the need to completely change out tooling between hits is eliminated. It’s always better to form a part with multiple hits in a single cycle than batching it through.
8. Gantry Automation Systems
Gantries are automated systems that move along a stationary axis in an assembly line-like fashion. In tube end forming, gantry systems typically move a part, or multiple parts, through any number of stations to create a desired end product. Two of our more recent gantry system applications were for automotive industry applications — one for fuel filler tubes and another for steering columns. While gantry systems don’t allow for as much flexibility as robotic systems, they still create seamless and consistent transitions between multiple stages of a manufacturing process. The best benefit, you get a finished part from every cycle.
9. Robotic Systems
When it comes to automation, robots can basically do it all. They can load parts, weld parts, inspect parts, and even assemble parts together. If the action is highly repetitive, too dangerous for an operator, or just something that an operator physically can’t do, it’s perfect for a robot. Gone are the days where robots were absolutely required to be 100% guarded, cobots can allow a robot to supplement the actions of an operator and take away some of the ergonomically challenging tasks. Added bonus, robots don’t take breaks and always show up for work on time.
The world of automation in manufacturing provides opportunities for everyone. From basic to complex, there’s an application for every pain point and budget. Consider your manufacturing process and what improvements you might gain from adding automation into your workflow. What could make it easier for you and your employees to get the job done faster and more efficiently? No matter the investment level, chances are you’ll receive a quick return and be looking for more opportunities for improvement through an expansion of your automation efforts. Automation sounds pretty worth it, don’t you think?