The world is in a current state of flux right now, following what has been an incredibly difficult year for individuals, economies and businesses across the globe, as we all make adjustments to the ever-changing situation caused by Covid-19.
Manufacturing certainly falls within the category of one of the hardest-hit industries. Whilst many sectors have been able to quickly adapt in terms of remote working practices and business, as usual, many manufacturers have had to take the unfortunate steps of halting production and furloughing workforces.
The current log jam has led many manufacturers to consider the potential of automation and has certainly moved the spotlight onto the automation industry, as new ways forward are explored. Automation is a deployable method in returning production yields to profitable levels, whilst not being of detriment to a human workforce. Individuals and machines can work side by side as we collectively strive back to normality.
Benefits of Automation
Even before COVID-19, the benefits of automation were apparent, especially with the exhilarating momentum of Industry 4.0 – unleashing the power of connectivity, automation, advanced analytics and manufacturing technologies.
This technological acceleration has helped companies transform their operations – increasing efficiency and lowering costs. However, now more than ever, the adoption of automated processes can heavily benefit organisations and complement their existing workforce.
Automated processes are becoming increasingly necessary to overcome manufacturing disruptions, such as safe-distancing measures and the restricted movement of workers, stemming from any spread of disease. Automated processes can help to mitigate these effects of COVID-19, in many ways. Employee safety is primarily enhanced as are operational efficiency, asset productivity and product quality.
Collaborative Robots (Cobots) are a prime example of how a workforce and a machine can co-exist in a production environment, vastly minimising human contact with products. Cobots could potentially be a great solution to helping adhere to social distancing measures and halt the potential spread of infection.
Industry 4.0 and Vision Inspection
Additionally, digital solutions created by Industry 4.0 allow manufacturers to automate data collection activities, through the utilisation of sensors, as well as the ability to remotely transact with a PLC (Programmable Logic Controller) to collect performance data. These methods allow for factory performance to be monitored externally; further enabling operational intervention such as performance-management meetings, to improve overall productivity and re-allocate workforce to meet increased demand.
Deployment of automated equipment-monitoring and process-control mechanisms in automation can also serve to reinforce the continuation of operations with a fragmented workforce. These systems optimise OEE (Overall Equipment Efficiency) in terms of cycle times, yields, quality and throughput, all of which are pivotal and an attractive proposition for high yield manufacturing environments, which need to be continuously monitored and optimised, certainly where product quality is paramount.
The utilisation of Vision Inspection technologies can also be highly beneficial in ensuring ultimate levels of product quality. The implementation of Machine-vision components helps to prevent contaminated items from entering the supply chain and enhances the volume and speed at which products are inspected, whilst reducing the need for manual handling of products.
Moving Forward with Automation
Manufacturers who have embarked on the transition to automation processes already have the capability of maintaining social distancing practices. Therefore, they can utilise their human capital safely, whilst realising productivity gains in allowing automation to complete intensive, error-prone and repetitive injury-inducing tasks.
Whilst it may not seem viable to invest in this current climate, longer-term, manufacturers who invest in automation are likely to reap the benefits. These manufacturers will be able to operate at lower costs, maximise productivity and most importantly, safeguard the safety of employees from whatever else may come our way.
This COVID pandemic has unquestionably presented a number of global challenges which we can collectively and collaboratively overcome. Automation will play a critical part in our collective recovery and PCE stand ready to support the fightback. If you would like to discuss how automation can unlock resilience opportunities within your business, do not hesitate to Contact Us, to find out how you can benefit from making us your partner in automation….