The COVID-19 pandemic introduced several challenges for the automotive industry – from fluctuating demand, to parts shortages, to labor shortages. Case in point: In the beginning of the pandemic, when demand for automobiles dropped, manufacturers reduced shifts and implemented temporary plant closures, furloughs, and layoffs. But now that demand is returning, those same manufacturers are having difficulty filling job openings. And although parts shortages – especially those involving semiconductor chips and other components – are predicted to ease in the latter half of 2021 and through 2022, labor shortages could remain for longer.
The combination of an uptick in demand and difficulty filling open labor positions has led many automotive manufacturers and industry suppliers to investigate new ways to automate their manufacturing processes, including the application of fluid on glass and plastic components during assembly. In addition, the pandemic has highlighted the importance of delivering value to the customer – which, in the automotive industry often comes in the form of improved quality, better safety features, and a wider range of options. The way to do this while maintaining productive and profitable operations, is through automation.
In fact, automation and lean initiatives often go hand-in-hand. Automating a process supports the lean principle of standardization and reduces the opportunities for errors or quality defects, while freeing up humans to do more value-added work. Take an example from one of Designetics product offerings. Our semi- and fully automated fluid application systems typically use an applicator track for delivering new applicators to the robot’s end of arm tool, or to a semi-automated handheld remote. The applicator track was designed with several poka-yoke – or mistake-proofing – design features that support lean manufacturing.
First, the applicator track includes two sensors – one that monitors if the applicator track is low on applicators, which could cause a situation where the next applicator to be picked by the robot isn’t in the correct location, and a second sensor that ensures the next applicator is in the correct position. If either condition is present – if the track is low on applicators, or if the next applicator isn’t in the correct position – a signal is sent to the robot controller, so the robot can halt movement or take other corrective action to avoid a collision.
The other poka-yoke design feature of the applicator track ensures that applicators can only be loaded into the track in a specific orientation. This ensures the robot doesn’t acquire an applicator that’s skewed or misplaced, which would result in the width or path of fluid application being incorrect.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many industries – including automotive manufacturing – to adapt to doing more with less, especially when it comes to labor. In many cases, the solution has been to place a stronger focus on lean manufacturing principles and automation – both of which can help increase value to the customer by improving productivity and quality.
Designetics has helped numerous companies in the automotive industry navigate the move from manual or semi-automated fluid application to fully automated application systems – before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. We know what it takes, from implementing the automated system and customizing it to your process, to training workers, to defining the return on investment. If you’d like to learn how Designetics automated fluid application systems can help improve productivity and quality, give us a call
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