Reasons Automation May Not Edge out the Manual Workstation

Our last post focused on the growing trend in manufacturing towards higher-skilled, more technical labor in manufacturing. Today, we’re going to talk about a few things that we think aren’t changing any time soon.

Automation has brought a faster pace and greater efficiency to many manufacturing plants.
However, some of those plants haven’t faired well in the economy. Smaller order production,
reductions in payroll budgets and other issues have made the automated systems less effective
than they were when the company was booming. One thing that plant managers must consider
is that the systems are designed to fit the needs of the company. So, when production changes,
so must the automation system. For some companies, this means bringing back the manual

The manual workstation is the traditional industrial work area for individual laborers. It is equipped
with tools, a close proximity to materials and everything else needed to complete a certain task.
The workstations may be set up to add a certain component to the product or to assemble a
portion that can’t be done with automated hands. They haven’t disappeared from the production
floor entirely. However, companies eager to jump on the automation bandwagon do sometimes
overlook the ways that the manual workstation can help.

In smaller production runs, the automation system and manual workstation can work hand and
hand in an area that is often overlooked in cost reduction analysis–transporting products from
one station to another. This isn’t an area where value is added to the product, but the time wasted
and the unintentional damage done while transporting can save the company some much needed
dollars in a down economy.

When a assembler transports a precision tuned, measured item the vibrations, however minor
can upset the calibrations. Conveyor systems used in automation are designed to run smoothly,
transporting the unit with minimum jostling. Components stay in tact. The conveyor system also
ends the cycle initiated by having to stop work and carry the units to the next station, only to
return to the works station and build momentum once again. Instead, the assembler placed the
unit on the conveyor before beginning another unit. No momentum is lost as the assembler builds
the act of placing the unit on the conveyor into the process. This will speed up production.

Another bonus of integrating automated systems and manual workstations is that small
production orders are easily created. There is no major setup tasks needed, as much of the work
is done at the work station. There, you swap out tools and materials. On a fully automated
system, you would have to unload unused materials, load new ones, breakdown specialized
machinery that won’t be used on the next product and more. With the integration, a few moments
to adjust is needed before beginning the next order.

Integrating automation and manual workstations is something that you will have to accomplish
with your equipment supplier. The systems are so specialized and each plant has its own needs,
so a cookie-cutter system is bound to fail in covering your plant needs. In many case, the
materials you need to integrate the system may already be sitting obsolete on the plant floor.

Eagle Technologies Group is an industry leader in the design and installation of Factory Automation Systems worldwide.

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