The manufacturing industry has taken a beating over the last few decades. The industry of our fathers or grandfathers has changed dramatically since the 1960s when almost everything we bought was made in this country. As manufacturing began to shift overseas, the American manufacturing industry couldn’t compete. Goods produced overseas with cheaper labor and reduced overhead costs were more attractive than goods made here.
For many industries the choice of cheaply made goods hasn’t always a good one. Consumers have benefitted from reduced costs of clothing and household items but many industries suffered because of inferior parts. What companies gained in reducing costs may have cost them the trust of customers expecting high quality. Looking at the industry today, we see many instances of ‘reshoring.’ The desire and realization of manufacturing coming back to the U.S. is a trend that is made possible because of the advancements in automation and computerized technology.
Benefits of Automation in Manufacturing
Manufacturing was once a very labor intensive industry and, because of that labor, a very expensive one to operate. The introduction of automation has allowed manufacturers to perform operations such as assembly, processing, material handling, and inspections with little or no human participation. Robots and automated manufacturing systems can often perform multiple tasks within the same system, further expanding their functionality.
The redesigned shop floor of today enables manufacturers to improve flexibility and productivity. Greater output of products with lower labor input means products made here in the U.S. are competitive with those made overseas. This reduction of labor also addresses the skilled labor shortages some industries are experiencing. In many instances there aren’t enough workers to fill open positions.
In a previous blog we spoke about safety and how important safety is in the workplace. Automating routine tasks has the benefit of improving working conditions and safety throughout facilities. Repetitive tasks that are boring and fatiguing for people are perfect jobs for automation. In turn, this improves worker safety by transferring workers from active process participation into supervisory roles. Automation also improves compliance with OSHA regulations and has reduced the number of injuries occurring in the workplace.
Additionally, product quality and lead times are improved in operations that are automated. By removing manual operations, products are produced with greater uniformity. Automated and computerized processes consistently meet quality specifications and the defect rate drops significantly. When manufacturing lead times are reduced, customers are able to receive orders quicker, improving the competitive advantage of the manufacturer.
When precision, complex geometries, or miniaturization are required, the most effective process is through machinery. In these operations automated machinery and computerized controls offer the manufacturer capabilities that cannot be accomplished manually. Innovations in industrial automation are happening at every level to improve the process.