Traditionally the argument for automation has concentrated on improving efficiency, quality and cost. Those reasons are all still valid, but in 2020, the issue of risk has come to the fore in a way none of us could have anticipated – opening up new challenges for businesses on a number of levels. Automation and in particular, flexible manufacturing, are uniquely placed to help companies reduce the risk in their operations environments.
For many companies, the coronavirus pandemic has exposed vulnerabilities in manufacturing and production. Social distancing requirements mean that every aspect of their carefully established processes need to be reviewed to ensure new regulations are being adhered to. Companies cannot ignore their responsibilities to protect the safety of the workforce. The good news is that automation could be key to reducing risk in the workplace while also maintaining or advancing productivity in the face of the new challenges presented by the COVID-19 situation.
Smart, industry 4.0 flexible manufacturing solutions is an innovative approach to production. Integrating the latest advancements in automation technology, control, and data tracking.
No longer do you need to manufacture your products on a conventional, congested linear production line, Flexible manufacturing could enable your existing assembly lines to be separated, production and processes to be appropriately distanced, busy aisles reduced with automated WIP management solutions and the introduction of multiple Robopod modules sited around your facility, connected using autonomous intelligent vehicles (AIVs) to work as one intelligent line.
Flexible manufacturing is a smart way for manufacturers to alleviate safety concerns.
5 Ways Flexible Manufacturing Can Help Reduce Risk
1. Ensuring Distancing
With social distancing regulations, every aspect of human involvement needs to be reconsidered. Manufacturing and packing lines that have teams of staff need to think about ways to provide sufficient space around each individual. Crowding is simply not acceptable.
In reality, this means that production lines need to be broken up or sectioned in order to provide the social distancing requirements for staff. For companies, it is also preferable that this does not be at the expense of productivity.
Automation is seen as one way to provide space and separation. By automating certain steps in the process, the workforce can be better spaced. What’s more, there are almost certain to be additional benefits to speed, efficiency and accuracy of production too.
2. Reducing Interaction
Environments where movement of goods and supplies around the shop floor are now facing a new level of risk. Every interaction bringing people in close proximity to each other needs to be reconsidered.
Transporting goods from warehouse to production line or from one process to another is traditionally carried out by operators using trolleys. Using autonomous intelligent vehicles to undertake those tasks can dramatically reduce the potential exposure that occurs when people are walking around. AIV systems such as Robopod®’s Podconnect® are fast and efficient.
Podconnect AIV is one of the latest generation which requires no tracks or complicated programming.
They are also reliable and safe, as the programming includes in-built safety so that the machines can avoid obstacles (both static and moving), working in harmony with the existing environment – be that personnel, plant or vehicles.
3. Reducing Handling
In the current climate, reducing human handling of goods is a vital imperative. This is especially relevant in sectors such as medical devices, pharmaceutical, personal care and food and drink; where risks of contamination by ingestion also come into play, but all sectors must reconsider how products, components and other goods are handled throughout the production process.
Here, automation can play a vital role in terms of constraining the potential spread of the virus from one operator to another, by reducing contact and increasing social distancing.
Machines such as Robopod® and Tendapod® can be configured and reconfigured to perform any number of chosen tasks. Flexible manufacturing means that they can be linked within existing processes via an intuitive IPC control interface and networked data handling offers you industry 4.0 connectivity, including:
- Advanced batch management
- Full part traceability
- Real time powerful data analytics
- Connectivity with multiple pods
- Autonomous intelligent vehicles
Which can all be viewed remotely via PC, laptop, tablet or smart mobile device.
4. Ensuring Consistency
Dependence on certain skill areas is another risk factor to consider. When teams of the workforce are uniquely equipped and able to carry out certain duties, there is a strain on operations as a whole if that team is out of action.
Introducing automation systems can be targeted at areas of vulnerability, reducing the risk in situations where an organisation is dependent on a particular skill set that could block production. Automation is a reliable and repeatable way of reducing reliance on highly skilled labour, whether that is in manufacturing products, assembling or quality checking.
5. Safety First
All Robopod® solutions are built to the latest machine safety regulations and are provided with comprehensive documentation, including risk assessment information.
They enable collaborative working between man and machine, connecting production lines and processes while ensuring sensible social distancing. In addition, the solutions can ease congested and busy aisles by reducing movement in the workplace. This also ticks the box for safety as well as efficiency.
Long Term Benefits of Automation
What’s more, the reconfigurable and reprogrammable nature of the systems means that the investment can be developed and repurposed for years to come. So just as flexible manufacturing solutions can help with short term challenges, they can be developed in the coming years to meet as yet unforeseen challenges or opportunities.
The benefits are not just short term. Bringing in efficiency has a long term benefit too.
Hopefully social distancing measures aren’t forever. The use of reconfigurable technology means that investments can be reconfigured and repurposed over time. Using Robopod® reconfigurable systems has enabled numerous clients to implement or develop their Smart Factory environments. The high tech systems have enabled clients in a range of sectors and industries to achieve greater efficiency, improving speed of production but also greater accuracy and more consistent quality of output. The intelligent systems provide information which gives commercial and operational benefits too.
The Smart Factory revolution is set to take a leap forward on many levels.
Robopod® is the innovative reconfigurable system with a standardised platform for robotic applications, offering unrivalled performance. Endlessly adaptable to the client’s requirements, the potential uses for Robopod® are 'only limited by imagination'; making a Robopod® a versatile investment with potential for rapid payback.
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