The cost of rework in manufacturing is growing. Retiring baby boomers and skilled laborers – along with a lack of younger workers to replace them – is effectively making the old models of factory and jobshop life obsolete. Stepping in to replace a lot of that skilled labor is automation, however automation usually requires significant investment and doesn’t adapt well to facilities with a lot of batch variation or high-mix product set. As such, the cost of both work and rework is going up.
When it comes to industrial processes like painting and powder coating in particular, more people are unwilling to work in such difficult environments while the ability of coaters to achieve the high-quality output they’re looking for is diminishing. This is so significant that as demand increases, many coaters simply end up refusing orders or refusing to employ additional shifts because they can’t be assured that the quality of work produced will avoid rework enough – ultimately turning a lot of profitable deals into a loss.
While mass manufacturers have eliminated a lot of rework and defect issues, all manufacturers can reduce the cost of rework through a few key initiatives that bring them into a new era of efficiency. These include flexible automation systems that better respond to short term demands, autonomous robots that help improve value-added processes by adapting to parts as they are, and maximizing consistency in such a way that can eliminate rework in the long term and give manufacturers the freedom they need to grow.
Flexible manufacturing systems and flexible automation are a new generation of work tools that enable manufacturers of all types – from sheet metal, aerospace and heavy equipment to consumer electronics, automotive and other discrete products – to better adapt and modify their workflows throughout the day in place of relying on rigid or fixed systems to get work done.
What are some good examples of flexible manufacturing systems? These can include autonomous mobile robots, integrated machining, container-based control systems, buffer storage and autonomous value-added robots – all of which essentially add slack and flexible automation to your production processes in order to give your workforce the bandwidth to focus on getting things right the first time.
Ultimately, this is the first channel to reducing rework because it eliminates some of the causes of defects and the need for rework in the first place. Often, these kinds of issues can come from moving too fast and simply not giving workers the time or materiel needed to ensure that they avoid mistakes. While total productivity could lag where all things are held equal, these flexible systems can help speed up a lot of the downtime in your existing production in ways that allow workers to do more without feeling pressed to do so – another situation where rework often arises.
While autonomous mobile robots have grown more common for a variety of materials handling scenarios, they don’t necessarily add value to parts in a way that would reduce rework. This is where autonomous robots for value-added processes can improve things instead – whether it’s for painting, spraying, coating, welding, machining or other processes, a variety of technologies are now available today that bring these closer to reality.
What is autonomy? It’s effectively any system that, once parameterized, can operate with limited oversight or surveillance, meaning you can expect a reliable and consistent output based on simple instruction sets instead of complex robot programming, jigging, fixturing or other challenges.
With autonomous robots, it becomes much easier to specify the behaviors you want to articulate without needing to consider part shape or orientation limitations. For example, Omnirobotic’s Shape-to-Motion ™ Technology uses a SEE-PLAN-EXECUTE framework that relies on 3D perception to see parts as they are, AI to plan a process motion and then take control of existing industrial robots from brands like ABB, FANUC and UR, effectively roboticizing an operation without traditional part mix or programming limitations.
The underlying benefit of this type of technology is the capacity to use existing industrial robots without needing to program them or fixture the parts they operate on. As it happens, manufacturers have already seen massive benefits from this. The study below indicates this: the output of an autonomous robot was compared to that of a skilled worker for a variety of parts and paint colors, and in all cases the robot was fundamentally more consistent without needing to be programmed.
At the same time, that target consistency of 1 mil was previously quite restrictive – variations of .5 mil could lead to significant rejection or rework rates. By using robots, this aerospace manufacturer was able to overcome the limitations it had seen within its skilled workforce and took it’s previous rework rate (between 40 and 50%) to near-zero in only a few weeks.
Of course, robots are incredibly good at following orders – to the letter, in fact. While it would be nice for humans to have this capacity, we know that people are far more creative, innovative and as a consequence inconsistent, which means that we will always get some level of rework whenever a human-led process needs to be relied upon.
While there are sometimes no other options, the truth is that accurate, flexible automation built on the new general purpose technologies of today can eliminate the uncertainty and inconsistency that leads to the high cost of rework in manufacturing today. At the same time, autonomous manufacturing robots and systems can free up workers and managers to focus on oversight, design, management and guiding processes to their best outcome, rather than having to do all the dirty work themselves!!
Omnirobotic provides Autonomous Robotics Technology for Spray Processes, allowing industrial robots to see parts, plan their own motion program and execute critical industrial coating and finishing processes. See what kind of payback you can get from it here, or learn more about how you can benefit from autonomous manufacturing systems.