Automation providing manufacturers the edge

AS the economic downturn continues there is a growing trend for companies to focus on reviewing automation systems with a view to improving performance and deferring capital expenditure.

AS the economic downturn continues there is a growing trend for companies to focus on reviewing automation systems with a view to improving performance and deferring capital expenditure.

Damian Jolly, team manager of Sage Automation’s manufacturing intelligence division, points out that because the degree of automation in Australian varies greatly from company to company, and not many have facilities that are fully automated, there is a lot of opportunity to improve existing processes and assist clients to make the transition to being globally competitive.

“In reviewing existing automation systems we utilise two main approaches – Manufacturing Intelligence Systems (MIS) and Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES).

“There is often a significant communication gap between the factory floor and the rest of the enterprise which means that existing information systems can be very slow to respond to requirements,” Jolly told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

“The main MIS drivers include measuring performance across all lines and company plants with standard metrics, screens and reports, sharing the lessons learned between plants, and integrating key shop floor data with an ERP system.

“Having identified the pain points in the manufacturing system, the main focus of MES is to facilitate improvements which may include examining process steps, removing waste, modifying machinery and systems, introducing real-time accounting, and retraining relevant employees.

“With a more agile production environment it is possible to reduce the amount of stock a company needs to hold, and to improve materials yield and the quality of products.”

Jolly says it is not uncommon for an entire MIS and MES project to be paid for in a single improvement activity.

“Typical return on investment is 6-24 months, and 10% improvement each year is easily achievable.”

Jolly says that a good example of MIS and MES in action is the significant improvement that has been made to existing automated processes at a leading company in the beverage bottling sector.

“This project resulted in some 3-6% improvement in overall equipment efficiency, largely due to a reduction in materials waste by locating losses in production processes and providing tools to assist with mass balance activities,” he said.

“Key project outcomes include a 5% improvement in throughput (21 minutes per shift) which in turn meant that capital expenditure on new lines could be delayed. In addition, fill volume control was improved and waste was reduced utilising applicable software,” Jolly said.

Repetitive processes

Many manufacturers that are heavily reliant on repetitive processes are now reaping the benefits of installing custom designed high-tech automation and robotics systems.

Clyde Campbell, MD of Machinery Automation & Robotics (MAR) says a central aim is to increase the output of repetitive processes in a wide range of applications such as materials handling, grinding, trimming and polishing, welding and cutting, palletising and packing.

“At the same time key safety issues can be addressed by reducing heavy and repetitive workplace requirements,” Campbell said.

“We provide customised turnkey approaches to specific automation needs ranging from stand-alone robot systems to fully integrated factory automation SCADA systems. Prior to designing and installing an automated production system, the first step is to carry out customised risk assessment procedures at the clients’ premises, and to then perform risk analysis at the system design phase.

“Risk assessment is then reviewed at the post commissioning and pre-manufacturing stages, and operators are trained to follow correct operational procedures. Once the new system is fully operational, service personnel are available to assist with programming changes and fault finding if necessary.

“Robotic solutions can play an integral role in many automated systems, particularly where a business relies heavily on repetitive processes. We can combine state-of-the-art robots with any automation application.

“At our dedicated robotic workshop extensive system trials are carried out prior to installation and commissioning of the system on-site with a view to minimising disruption to production.”

Campbell says companies that have improved their competitive edge recently include Inghams Chickens where automation upgrades of packaging lines was undertaken at several of the company’s high speed processing facilities.

Other major projects include installation of robotic palletisers for clients such as Darrell Lea, KCA and Huhtamaki with advanced vision sensing systems to enable flexible product changes with short changeover periods.