Transforming your manual production processes to automated composites manufacturing is going to be the norm in the future. However, this is not going to be an easy exercise to perform in your organization, as the workforce involved needs to be informed and retrained; and new systems/processes have to replace the old ones.
The goal of this article is to provide you a framework to walk through whilst you are thinking of automating your existing production. The framework here will get you involved in analyzing elements in your production process in a structured manner and could help provide greater insight on how your personalized road map looks.
Why we love doing things by hand, but to a certain extent!
The manual process forms the backbone of the composite production industry, as it is easy to get going without high capital investment. This is why many manufacturers want to stick to the manual processes, despite the increase in production volumes.
This becomes a major business challenge, as it is becoming increasingly challenging to find workforce skilled in the art of making composites. Not that workers do not enjoy the smell of epoxy/styrene resins, or chopped glass fiber, in the air. It is just becoming harder to find them.
So as a decision maker for your company, you need to step up the game and find automation that is suitable for you!
Analyzing the present workflow. I would not skip this
The first step is to understand the ground reality on the shop floor. In order to do this, we need to break down the present production methods into sections. It could be split up by process type, material, parts, etc. create a visual that gives you a better understanding, such as:
Further, each of these elements can be analyzed through the following questions:
Which part of the processes, that you see, takes a lot of manual labor (time/personnel)?
Which part of the process, if made faster or improved in quality, can make the process flow more smoothly?
Which parts make sense to automate (e.g. chemical-intensive work, quality critical, time critical, etc.)?
Please feel free to add your own question to the list. The goal here is to identify the section of each process and part that can benefit the business most from automation in the most pragmatic manner. Once you have gone through the exercise, scoping and defining the problem can be considered half the battle. Now we have a well-defined set of challenges at our hand that, if solved, can impact business in an intended manner.
Identifying the solution; a long yet fruitful process
This is a slightly boring part of the process, as it takes the longest to define and complete. In order to get started, an industry sourcebook and suppliers are great sources of information. The key characteristics of your solution can be divided into the following: