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Automation in Manufacturing: How Facilities Can Get Started

The automation race has taken a firm hold on the manufacturing industry. Production facilities and warehouses everywhere are looking for ways to implement robots, automated storage and conveyor processes, often regardless of ROI, to minimize the inefficiencies associated with product storage, assembly, personnel challenges, packaging, and more. 

But automation — from robots to autonomous vehicles and more — is expensive and slow to implement. While the theory may be worthwhile, in practice,  automation costs manufacturers millions to consider and often years to implement. 

If you’re looking for low-cost ways to improve efficiency and you’d like to move the needle now, there are solutions your facility can implement today to prepare you for the future state and reap the benefits of streamlined, efficient production. 

Manufacturing Solutions Facilities Can Implement Today

Automation doesn’t have to mean robots or high-tech autonomous vehicles. Anything you do to streamline your production processes and improve efficiency can be considered automation. And for that, there are a number of affordable tools your facility can implement today:

1. Gravity Flow Racks

Gravity flow racks make work easy, automatically feeding a new part to the operator each time they pull a part from the front of the rack. They also work to facilitate the first-in-first-out mentality, ensuring your facility is always using oldest product first, helping to support inventory management.

Flow racks can be configured to suit parts of any size and weight and are easily built with casters when needed to move across the facility. 

2. Modular Workstations

Modular workstations help to speed up labor-intensive processes like sorting and packing. Custom modular workstations are designed to put all key items in an operator’s golden zone. This means they do not have to reach or stretch for any product, from bubble wrap to scissors and tape to cardboard boxes and even parts. 

Easily configured to suit various workstation needs, modular workstations can be rebuilt and reused across different production lines, ensuring they are a long-term investment that will continue to boost efficiency over time. 

3. Top-Hat/Convertible Carts

Custom material handling carts are expensive, especially if your facility wants to hold a large stock of specific use carts. Top hat and convertible carts solve this problem by standardizing the most costly parts of the cart — the tow arm, receiver base, and casters — but enabling an interchangeable top hat makes it easy to move any type of product safely and efficiently across your facility. Top hat carts are customized to match exactly the special use case your facility requires, and they are easily dropped onto existing standardized cart bases. When your facility needs another type of cart, you can simply swap the top hat option rather than investing in another fleet for special-use carts. 

This is an innovative, simple change any facility can make to maximize your use from material handling carts while minimizing your expense. 

4. Work In Process (WIP) Carts

Work in process carts are designed to support parts and products as they move through several stages of assembly. If your facility is working with awkwardly sized parts or parts that must be handled with special care as they move from one side of production to another, WIP carts offer the perfect solution. 

WIP carts can even be paired with a top-hat configuration, so your facility only uses specialty WIP carts when needed. When they’re not, simply swap the WIP top hat for another, more suitable top hat. 

5. Modular Structures

Modular structures are the ideal unpowered automation solution for nearly any facility need. Modular structures, from workstations to flow racks to picking and kitting carts, provide the durability and organization you need for unpowered automation without locking you into a particular automation system. 

As your facility processes and production runs change, the benefit of modular structures is that you can reorganize them to suit your new facility flow. Modular structures contribute to an agile, flexible facility that can adapt quickly to changing needs. 

Why Implement Unpowered Automation?

Unpowered automation is an exceptionally useful tool, but not many are talking about it. Amidst all the conversation of robots and automated vehicles, why should your facility look at unpowered solutions?

1. Unpowered Automation Solutions Are Faster to Install

Unpowered automation solutions can be implemented nearly instantly. The suggestions mentioned above, like flow racks, workstations, and more, can be implemented in your facility almost as soon as they arrive. There’s very little setup or prep to be done. 

Powered automation solutions require an almost complete overhaul of your facility. You have to know exactly where powered solutions will be installed, which protocols you’ll need to follow for safe operation, and more. 

While a well-designed powered automation system can deliver results, unpowered automation solutions can be implemented immediately, which means they can start driving efficiency immediately.

2. Unpowered Automation Solutions Carry a Lower Cost 

As you might expect, because unpowered automation doesn’t require advanced technology or highly technical engineering to assemble, it’s much more affordable than powered automation. 

But that lower cost extends beyond just an initial purchase. Without electrical moving parts breaking down or robotic arms failing, unpowered automation provides a low cost throughout the life of the system. Fixes can be made easily and without the need for a service technician, which means you enjoy an affordable system for years to come. 

3. Immediate Cost Impact

Because unpowered automation solutions are installed in no time and at very little upfront cost, they’re able to start delivering results immediately. There’s not much initial investment to pay off, and because they are an effective option, they can start saving your facility in efficiency and productivity immediately. All of that goes right to your bottom line. 

4. Learn from the Process

Unpowered automation gives your facility the flexibility it needs to truly learn from the process. Automation isn’t a perfect solution for any facility upon initial implementation. Unlike powered automation, where you’ve invested a great deal and have installed powered machines that require dedicated spaces, unpowered automation can flex with your production needs. 

Let’s say you don’t like the location of a particular workstation, or the layout of a specific flow rack isn’t conducive to your work. With unpowered automation you’re able to spot those issues and learn from them. You can move and reconfigure solutions as your facility learns how to improve processes and become even more efficient. 

Understanding the Benefits of Unpowered Automation in Manufacturing

Powered automation solutions like robots, automated vehicles, and more are useful, but only if they can be implemented properly. And proper implementation can take months and even years of planning. To implement powered automation, you have to consider:

  • How robots and other powered automation machines will interact with people
  • Where in the facility they can be placed. If your facility isn’t ready to bolt a landmark to the floor, then modular is the best alternate solution. 
  • How long it will take to implement these solutions. This is key – In most cases, facilities need to overhaul their layout and processes to even consider implementing powered automation solutions. How will your facility optimize your processes and improve efficiency during that time?

Powered automation solutions are costly, slow to implement, and permanent. That’s a combination that’s difficult for many facilities to confront all at once. Unpowered automation can offer the same benefits without the drawbacks. Consider:

  • Unpowered automation can be implemented today, which means an immediate impact on your facility’s bottom line. 
  • What’s more, powered automation solutions are scalable. They can be reconfigured to suit your processes as your facility’s needs change. 

Ready to boost efficiency and realize real change in your facility today?

Unpowered automation solutions help your facility improve efficiency, productivity, and profitability, immediately. Easy to set up, easy to reconfigure, and ideal for facilities that are just starting to learn from the lean manufacturing methodology, unpowered automation is an impactful solution. If you’re ready to see immediate benefits from unpowered automation solution implementation, get in touch with the Geolean team.