For military suppliers operating at the limit of their production capacity, automation holds the key to expanding their manufacturing capabilities.
In many ways, manufacturing for the military is just like other industries: the right automation processes have to be developed to achieve efficient production output, quality control standards must be in place, and new technologies are constantly challenging conventional wisdom and offering new possibilities for achieving success.
But in other ways, military manufacturing is unique. Engineers are pushing the boundaries of physics to develop new equipment, components themselves can be highly volatile, and there is a higher focus on security. The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has added another demand: urgency.
As part of the U.S. response to the war in Ukraine, the government is investing over two billion dollars into upgrading industrial munitions facilities. Much of this funding is to be directed specifically toward 155mm artillery shells, Javelin missiles, and Guided Multiple Rocket Launch Systems (GMRLS), all of which have provided crucial support to Ukraine. Due to the continued demand for these weapons, and the subsequent need for the United States to rebuild their own stockpile, manufacturing targets have been set to several times their pre-war levels.
Naturally, fulfilling this demand will require American military manufacturers to expand their own operations significantly. As they do, they have an opportunity to incorporate new technological innovations into their production process in ways that promise to increase quality and production efficiency. Here are the top four most promising Industry 4.0 technologies for military manufacturing automation.
1. Advanced robotics.
Modern robots are faster, more mobile, and more precise than their counterparts from even a decade ago. They can even be programmed to switch between tasks, giving them greater versatility in assemblies that have relatively low output, but require a large number of assembly steps—such as assembling a tank or a fighter jet. Robots can also replace human workers in more dangerous environments where explosive substances are being handled.
Mobile robots can also be used on factory floors to assist workers to lift heavy items, or transport inventory, or palletize products for shipping. They can also work alongside human technicians on large projects that are too big to move along a production line. Applications for this type of automation include riveting a plane’s fuselage or spraying protective coatings on a helicopter.
2. Artificial vision systems.
Quality control in military applications is paramount, given the life-or-death stakes involved. But when humans grow tired or get distracted, they make mistakes, and defects can go unobserved. Vision systems, guided by artificial intelligence, can reliably perform product inspections without human assistance. They can also perform inspections faster, and without the need to take rest breaks.
Vision systems are also behind the recent expansion in applications for mobile robots. While traditional automation requires products to be held in a specific position so that machines can perform a process blind, robots equipped with vision systems can lift and manipulate objects into the correct position, or for objects too large to lift, can navigate themselves through a production environment.
3. IIoT production tracking.
The integration of internet-capable devices into manufacturing workflows is allowing for more remote oversight and greater visibility into processes. Perhaps the best use of this technology lies in manufacturers’ ability to monitor machine performance and create proactive maintenance schedules, reducing unexpected downtime in the process.
With greater awareness of each component as it progresses through manufacturing stages, military suppliers can give more accurate delivery estimates, which in turn can help logistics personnel make more informed decisions regarding supplies. Modern manufacturing can also automate the implementation of internet-capable devices into products, connecting drones, soldiers, and bases of operation.
4. Big data analytics.
IIoT doesn’t just convey real-time manufacturing updates—it also helps gather an unprecedented level of manufacturing data, which can then be stored and analyzed. Many manufacturers use this for tracked components, such that if there is some kind of production fault, the error can be traced back to its source.
Data analytics can also be used to predict production needs, analyze the amount of time needed to complete an order, track the inventory required, and streamline supply chain demands. As a result, integration of data-gathering devices into the manufacturing process can help manufacturers write more accurate proposals and deliver according to their promised timelines.
Eagle’s on-time delivery rate can help military suppliers keep their commitments.
Eagle Technologies boasts a 97% on-time delivery rate—one of the highest in our industry. We like talking about that number because it represents the culmination of our years-long commitment to innovation and continuous improvement. As a result, we also have a smoother turnaround time than many of our competitors.
In turn, our focus on innovation and improvement carries over into how we design and build our assemblies. We are constantly exploring how new technologies can enhance our assemblies, and identifying methods to create better, more efficient machines. Put differently, we don’t view speed and quality as opposed to each other. Instead, we believe that the quality of our product is what makes us fast.
If you are searching for an automation partner who can help you upgrade your factories in order to fulfill manufacturing contracts for the DoD, look no further. Our representatives can discuss your requirements with you and deliver a proposal matched to your needs. Contact us today to learn more.
Eagle Technologies, headquarters in Bridgman, MI