Building trust in automation

Just as a personal trainer can help you meet personal goals, the same can be said about adopting new manufacturing methods for your business. Investing in an automation system – and partnering with key suppliers to customise a plan that fits your needs will result in leaner, more productive operations with more efficient outcomes.

To create effective solutions, we need to fully understand our customers and adopt their values. Traditional challenges in CNC manufacturing include high unit costs due to low machine utilisation, manned production, hiring and retaining skilled employees and little operational flexibility or resilience. Add increased customer demands, more customisation, shorter lead times, and traceability requirements, and a one-size-fits-all approach just doesn’t work. Flexibility is key, a mutually trusting relationship is the master key.

By adapting a traditional milling or turning operation to a fully automated one, manufacturers will be able to quickly reap rewards in increased production and efficiency with the right supplier partner. For example, in turning applications where robots are used for direct workpiece manipulation, robots do the heavy lifting, eliminating repetitive manual transfers, resulting in increased throughput and reduced downtime. Integrating a machining center into the process can be done via buffer storage, allowing fixtures and work to be shared between machine tools.

And lights-out production is extended, helping to solve labour shortages and provide a continuous, high-production operation. A complete machining systems overhaul isn’t necessary. Fastems can integrate more than 90 different machine and device brands. And multiple brands can be used in the same system for further flexibility.

After the manufacturing fitness plan is finalised and all equipment moved into place, it needs to be intelligently executed to be fully effective. This is where manufacturing management software comes into play. All work and data are stored in the automation software, minimising operational touch points to ensure planned production will happen. When changes occur, the software automatically calculates the best options.

The next step is to implement an intelligent production planning software that can handle orders and production resources and adapt to any situation. Orders are converted to work queues for individual machines or production cells. Human operators are prompted to prepare raw materials and tools in advance and are alerted when something is missing, with everything visible on the screen.

Intelligent automation goes far beyond manual operation and machine tending automation, with software guiding an operator through every process. The most successful production processes have an executable plan that works with existing systems.

Synchronising and managing operations to produce what’s needed starts with people. All of these factors must be thriving simultaneously, aware of all aspects of the production process and able to solve problems. Some customers have added employees, some of whom didn’t have machining experience, by implementing an automated system that is easily taught.

Smart automation begins with human intelligence that feeds the mechanical and software systems that can “run” uninterrupted, expanding capabilities, lowering piece costs, and enabling a shop’s systems to work together safely and effectively. Such partnerships adapt as needed to scale and inevitably change as the operation grows stronger. Like the human body, it takes muscle and brains to function together healthily.

This is the viewpoint of Nathan Turner, President of Fastems and it first appeared in Manufacturing Engineering