Automation is Tricking Down to Smaller Manufacturers

Automation for manufacturing purposes has made some substantial progress recently as machines sophisticated and inexpensive enough to handle low-volume orders and ever-changing production:

New systems, software and processes are replacing so-called islands of automation with seamless, automated manufacturing lines that boost overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) from 30 to 80% or more. Like a chess master, these systems think multiple moves ahead on the factory floor to ensure continuing production when circumstances change. These systems cut scrap, improve quality, improve throughput and—the pièce de résistance—open the door to extreme customization, a.k.a. “Order of One” and “Batch Size 1.”

Automated processes include pallet handling, bending and insertion, measuring and assembly transportation. These emerging systems for production-integrated quality assurance (QA) also can disrupt the manufacturing-distribution system by enabling factories to ship these “Orders of One” directly to customers.

“One part can be made just as efficiently as 18,” Fastems President David Suica said. “You’re running super lean. You’re running ‘just in time’.”

“In the past, automated systems were tailored to a very high volume of part manufacturing,” Pete Rogers, VP of operations at Acieta, said. “If you were doing only a one-off or two-off of a part number, you would never automate. The payback wasn’t there because of the additional programming needed for a mix of parts. Now these new systems can be programmed to do a high mix of part numbers even if the volume is pretty low. They can order and produce only what they need when they need it. You can produce one-off parts.”

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