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Big Picture: The state of automation

More companies are looking to materials handling automation to improve processes and lower operating costs. Modern asked 10 leading systems integrators what the future of automation might look like.

Conveyor and sortation systems are using software and controls to manage the flow of goods while distributing work in a way that eliminates bottlenecks.

By Bob Trebilcock, Executive Editor
May 01, 2012

Muratec: Speed counts
In manufacturing work cells, where robots weld seams, install windshields and load and unload machines, automation has been commonplace for years. Now, manufacturers are automating the processes between the work cells and doing so on a global basis, says Tom Meyers, national sales manager for Muratec. “We had 40% growth last year, and it was on a worldwide basis,” says Meyers. “China, for instance, was an area where we saw significant growth.”

Reducing labor has always been the traditional justification for automation in manufacturing, where the jobs are more costly because the skill level is higher. Today, there is also an emphasis on making things operate faster. “If I can increase the speed of the equipment, I can get more throughput and productivity from the equipment that I’m installing,” says Meyers. “Automated storage and retrieval cranes are running faster than in the past. And while automatic guided vehicles are not traveling faster along their paths because of safety concerns, their response times for loading and unloading are faster than they used to be.”

Automated materials handling is also being applied in new ways on the manufacturing floor. Historically, automated storage and retrieval (AS/RS) technology was installed in high bay facilities that stored raw materials and parts or finished goods. “Now we’re putting in systems with fewer aisles and a 20-foot ceiling to handle work-in-process,” says Meyers. “We’re using AGVs instead of lift trucks and conveyors.”

More importantly, he adds, automation is allowing factories to operate two and three shifts a day without employing a three-shift workforce.

About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Executive Editor

Bob Trebilcock, executive editor, has covered materials handling, technology and supply chain topics for Modern Materials Handling since 1984. More recently, Trebilcock became editorial director of Supply Chain Management Review. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.

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