Big Picture: The state of automation
Conveyor and sortation systems are using software and controls to manage the flow of goods while distributing work in a way that eliminates bottlenecks.
May 01, 2012 - MMH Editorial
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.