5 ways automation can streamline assembly operations
Lean manufacturing expert, Dan Fleming, worked with Bosch Rexroth to outline how automation can work with lean concepts to make assembly operations more efficient. Fleming, who is Continuous Improvement Manager of the Greater Boston Manufacturing Partnership (GBMP), stresses that although a common perception is that automation builds in waste and excess production, automation can actually streamline processes that are typical of a wasteful manual assembly line. Five key points of advice follow from Fleming.
1. Mistake-proofing, standardization and consistency, considered hallmarks of automation, also are important concepts of lean manufacturing.
2. Design engineers should consider lean principles when designing automated processes. For example, robots on an assembly line should exclude additional movements that are not an integral part of the actual task. By limiting wasteful movement, the robot could complete the task faster and the item would be assembled quicker, and the process becomes even leaner.
3. Countering the common assumption that automation is expensive, Fleming explains that simply improving or modifying processes on a large machine could achieve a significant reduction in changeover time. If changing tools is necessary, for example, by removing and then replacing four bolts, operators should question if the same task can be completed safely with two bolts. This cuts the time needed to attach the tool by 50 percent, and that savings may be amplified across multiple tools to save additional time.
4. According to Fleming, overproduction is the worst waste because it perpetuates even more waste: moving the extra product, storing it, counting it and paying tax on it. It’s more efficient to keep a big machine idle than produce things that are not needed. A lean alternative, says Fleming, would be to add multiple smaller machines so the assembly line is more flexible.
5. Fleming also recommends that a person working in an assembly line should have a standardized, stable work environment that is always equipped with the right tools in spaces that can be reached without having to look up, eliminating a waste of motion. By designing workstations that are ergonomically correct, the person does not have to waste time by “setting up” the workstation; everything is ready for the task to be completed immediately.
More information is available from Fleming in Rexroth’s lean manufacturing podcast episode 16, “Lean in Assembly Operations” discusses how to apply lean concepts to automation. The episode is the latest in a series of Rexroth podcasts dedicated to lean manufacturing education. The podcast series is also available from the iTunes podcast library and other podcast directories on the web. Related and supporting information is available.
For more information on lean manufacturing visit www.boschrexroth-us.com/lean
– Edited by Gust Gianos, Control Engineering, www.controleng.com