Any manufacturer who has launched a new product is well acquainted with the risks associated with the production lifecycle. They not only need to ensure they have an adequate, readily available supply of components required for the initial deployment but, as customer demand increases, for a successful ramp-up as well. Navigating fluctuating supply and demand – and getting the product from unit 1 to unit 1M – can be an especially challenging journey when leveraging legacy, inflexible technologies that cannot adapt or pivot as requirements change.
Fortunately, today’s next-generation, flexible solutions allow manufacturers to avoid many of the common pitfalls associated with production ramp-up. Let’s dive in.
Risks that Threaten Ramp Up
Manufacturers are highly aware of the risks that threaten production ramp-up, but even knowing what the risks are doesn’t mean they’re easy to overcome.
If the assembly line takes too long to deploy, it not only delays the introduction of unit 1 but limits the ability of the facility to meet the number of units required over time. Slow upgrades on the assembly line occur when there’s inflexibility to build new product revisions, and insufficient capacity can happen when there’s an inability to scale the assembly line.
As production ramps up and units per hour increase, quality issues may emerge. Unpredictable output happens when there’s performance inconsistency; line downtime occurs when there’s a slow response to unexpected issues. And overall site disruption happens when there’s an inability to transfer technology or have dual sites.
Without the right tools and technologies in place, delayed deployment and reduced quality are difficult to avoid—but that’s all changing.
How to Avoid Common Pitfalls with Next-Generation Automation
Products like smart meters, automotive modules, batteries, and power tools all have components that require assembly, which includes various steps such as gluing, soldering, and screwdriving. Until now, manufacturers have approached these intricate assembly stages in two ways—with human operators, who are fast and flexible but are not scalable and have limited capacity for improvement, or with basic or custom automation, which is resilient to disruption but isn’t always scalable and certainly isn’t flexible.
Next-generation automation solutions, including Bright Machines Microfactories, introduce fast, flexible, scalable production that’s resilient to disruption and poised for continuous improvements. Using a software-driven approach, microfactories make the setup, configuration, and deployment of assembly lines easy to navigate; software runs work orders and leverages data from the line to analyze production in real-time, so any concerns can be addressed before they happen.
Next-generation automation is also faster to deploy. Basic automation can take up to a year to analyze, design, fabricate, assemble, program, integrate and deploy; modern automation can be deployed in half that time (or less!) with a flexible architecture that makes it easy to configure lines, add devices, and create new recipes.
Other production benefits from next-generation automation include:
- Fast upgrades to new product versions: The introduction of software-driven smart skills overcomes traditional mechanical constraints to dramatically reduce the time to market for new product introductions due to increased flexibility.
- Easy-to-increase capacity: Manufacturers can quickly add new or adapt existing cells to increase capacity as needed. Say the original line started at 100 units per hour, but they need to ramp up to 200 units per hour. Operators can identify where potential bottlenecks are occurring and add or reconfigure cells to accommodate the increase.
- Automated inspection to ensure consistent yield: Vision systems that leverage cameras, lenses, illumination, and calibration can verify that product labels are positioned correctly, for example, and that all screws are inserted correctly so that quality isn’t compromised as production ramps up.
- Performance standardization for operational excellence: Real-time operation monitoring allows the team to compare performance across all lines and shifts to ensure production is on track to meet targets. Alerts can also be set up to notify operators of changes within the assembly process, which allow for course correction as needed. For example, operators can learn about a down line as it happens, access event logs and data visualization capabilities to help accelerate the identification of the root cause and address the issue quickly and easily.
- Line portability: As reshoring and nearshoring gain popularity, manufacturers need the ability to move or duplicate their lines in new locations. Software-driven automation with modular components enables a streamlined technology transfer from site to site, allowing disassembly and reassembly faster than ever.
Manufacturing requirements and risks are rapidly evolving alongside today’s dynamic market, meaning that production (and production ramp-up) need to adapt as well. The benefits of a software-driven approach – one that leverages next-generation, flexible automation – are unparalleled.
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