Smaller tool manufacturers are eventually doing away with their doubts regarding industrial automation and are embracing it owing to the wide range of advantages it offers.
Industrial automation is changing the way cutting tool manufacturers operate. Machines have taken on the heavy lifting at each stage of production letting workers get on with less repetitive tasks. And while automation may sound costly and complex to implement, it’s not reserved just for big business. There are dozens of ways a small cutting tool manufacturer can embrace automation for a more efficient and innovative factory.
Benefits of industrial automation
• Cost reduction happens through reduced labor costs and increased machine uptime. The drive for automation is being accelerated by the unavailability of skilled labor, where machines can fill the gaps.
• Automation is an important step to help people meet regulatory obligations concerning the limits of weekly work hours without compromising machine utilization.
• Reduced material handling makes running smaller batches much more cost-effective.
• Streamlining of existing processes and systems across the business.
• Elimination of mistakes in material management.
• Automating in-process measurement raises the quality of tool production and can nearly eliminate waste, meaning more profit.
Standing on the giants’ shoulders
Bigger companies indeed have more buying power. When it comes to industrial automation, they have scope to ask for tailored developments to suit specific needs or to make these in-house adjustments. But as new technology and solutions are developed in response to these requests, the industry as a whole will benefit.
Just because a technology is off the shelf, doesn’t mean it is ‘standard’. Our industry is constantly evolving as new solutions are found and applied. While their technology development may have been developed at the request of a large customer, as soon as it’s scalable it can be rolled out to suit most businesses. At ANCA, this includes many of its innovations including 3D simulation software, its in-process measurement system Laser Plus, and RoboTeach, which makes robotic loaders accessible and easy to program.
The addition of laser etching on a Robot loader is another example that has increased the functionality of the grinding machine by including what would otherwise have been additional downstream steps in the process of making tools.
Vendors recognize that a small tool manufacturer’s priority is maximizing his factory’s efficiency – machine uptime versus setup time. They know that he needs software and accessories that will help him keep things ticking over without wasting time and money reloading materials.
A small cutting tool factory relies on every working part being up to scratch including its people.
Automation removes the risk of human error, creating a safer working environment that’s less likely to be disrupted.
Approaching where to start
Chances are there will be no obvious trigger when it comes to adopting industrial automation. Many smaller businesses won’t have planned to develop the level of automation they have. Some may have started only after an increase in labor and setup costs forced them to look for ways to run more smartly. But that is ok, one can build one’s automation solution piece by piece – as long as they have an agreed vision.
It may be as simple as being observant and seeing which steps in one’s production process have the greatest cost. Unlike other efficiency drives, there is no harm in approaching this piecemeal. One has to start by attacking the area of their business that will provide them with the greatest value.
Looking for industrial automation solutions that reflect how one operates: At the smaller end of the tool cutting market, there’s a good chance one is producing small batch lots and changing geometry multiple times a day rather than leaving the machine running constantly making the same tool all day.
In this world, innovation is often a secondary need to maximizing day-to-day productivity. For example, looking for solutions that allow the operator to step away from the machine and carry out other tasks rather than being there all day. Automating geometry changes and existing manual material management processes can make a real change to how much they can do elsewhere and help them maximize machine uptime versus setup time. Time, after all, is money.
Automating production but also considering automating processes: One may not have the business budgets to request tailored solutions, but out-of-the-box solutions are available that can be used to manage inventory, integrate with ERP to manage job orders, and even pack ready for dispatch. Many will work effectively with their existing processes even if they have never automated them before.
Industrial automation can help focus on people: A small cutting tool factory relies on every working part being up to scratch including its people. Automation removes the risk of human error, creating a safer working environment that’s less likely to be disrupted. Furthermore, changing government legislation is limiting how many hours employees can work. Automation is the obvious solution to maximize machine time when people are not present.
Applying industrial automation solutions that connect one more to their customers will allow them to see in real-time what they’re low on, what’s in high demand, or what’s coming up in their production that will suit their requirements. This also allows them to explore other areas of production and manufacture tools knowing with confidence what their customers want.
Everyone can afford and benefit from existing industrial automation solutions: Automation can take the pain out of being a small tool shop. A new factory of the future will be able to produce multiple kinds of tools without getting bogged down in manual operations.
We can all benefit from streamlining systems and processes. What is needed is focusing on one’s specialty and leveraging the technology that’s already out there. There are better ways to use time. Grind the wheel, don’t reinvent it.