High Automation Factories
Currently manufacturing is experiencing what many are calling the fourth industrial revolution. Production processes are becoming more automated as the adoption of industrial robots continues to rapidly grow. In many factories around the world articulated robots now outnumber workers, as high automation factories are becoming the new standard for manufacturing.
A high automation factory is one that runs mainly on automated equipment such as industrial robots as opposed to a low automation factory which relies heavily on manual labor. The goal with a high automation factory is to achieve a lights-out manufacturing model. Lights-out manufacturing consists of completely automated production processes and system driven workflows, significantly reducing or eliminating the need for any human interaction. In a highly automated factory production lines may consist of robots such as the FANUC M-20a for automated assembly or the Motoman MH50 for robotic machine tending.
High automation factories may model their operations based on one of two concepts. The first is a hybrid model of lights-out manufacturing in which robots are used to run productions in between shifts. During the day a manufacturer may opt for more manual labor and then at night keep their operations running by using the FANUC M-10ia or similar six axis robots. The second concept of high automation is a factory that is fully automated. This means the factory runs twenty-four hours a day on solely automated equipment, which consists mainly of industrial robots. Many companies may adopt a hybrid model before eventually converting to a fully automation operation. Fully automated factories allow for higher productivity, improved product quality, faster cycle times, and reduced costs. Many manufacturers are now operating fully automated facilities including those in the automotive and electronic industries. Top robotic manufacturer FANUC uses their own robots to build their new robots in their lights-out facility in Japan.
The high automation factory concept has been made possible through the advancements of robotic technology. Today’s industrial robots can complete a wide range of tasks from assembly to welding automation, and even new concepts such as 3D printing. Specialty force sensors and robotic vision systems can be integrated with industrial robots to provide them with sensory feedback of touch and sight. Integrating the ABB 2400 with vision enhances its accuracy and enables it to adapt to changes while operating, allowing the 2400 to automate more complex tasks. Artificial Intelligence is also improving the autonomy of robots through self programming and diagnostics while also predicting maintenance needs. Offline programming allows programming to be done through a computer outside of the production environment, limiting the need for a robot programmer to be onsite.
As the use and capabilities of industrial robots continues to grow, more factories are expected to adopt the high automation concept. Robots are capable of automating most manufacturing applications. They can also handle high part mixes, varying production volumes, and unpredictable situations with their improved technology. Some manufacturers see high automation as necessary to stay competitive in today’s global marketplace. Robots are a cost-effective, reliable, and sustainable solution for manufacturing. A high automation factory is resilient to outside variables, allowing for consistent and dependable productions.