Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘automation’

The history of manufacturing is to some extent the history of substituting capital for labor. Devising a way of making things that is more reliant on equipment (or an organizing principle like the Ford assembly line) allows workers to be more productive and generate more output per hour worked. But capital requires, you know, capital. Adding new equipment like robots requires an upfront investment and having that investment payoff depends on scale at which the business operates. Big firms like Roger-&-Me era GM can afford robots even if they have limited capabilities but smaller firms have a harder time taking the plunge. Until now that is, if the Wall Street Journal is to be believed (Robots Work Their Way Into Small Factories, Sep 17).

Robots have been on factory floors for decades. But they were mostly big machines that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and had to be caged off to keep them from smashing into humans. Such machines could only do one thing over and over, albeit extremely fast and precisely. As a result, they were neither affordable nor practical for small businesses.

Collaborative robots can be set to do one task one day—such as picking pieces off an assembly line and putting them in a box—and a different task the next. …

Small businesses often need flexibility “because they’re not just packaging cookies endlessly,” says Dan Kara, a robotics expert at ABI research, a market-research firm in Oyster Bay, N.Y.

Here is a graphic of describing some of the machines discussed in the article.

MK-CP408_SBAUTO_G_20140917141817

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Why invest in automation? The answer to that question is often to cut cost — a straight up move to replace labour with capital. That has the obvious implication that firms in high-wage locales like the US should be willing to invest heavily in fancy machinery while those in lower-wage countries like India should be more cautious in doing so. That may not always hold, however. As the Wall Street Journal tells it, there is one Indian industry that is investing heavily in automation and it’s not really about shaving costs. The industry in question is generic pharmaceuticals and the driving force behind the capital investments is maintaining high quality standards (India’s Drug Makers Move Toward Automation, Jun 5).

Despite an abundance of low-cost laborers in India, all of [Dr. Reddy's Laboratories'] plants are moving toward fully automating their production process “to avoid good manufacturing practice pitfalls from regulators,” said Samiran Das, head of Dr. Reddy’s generic drugs manufacturing.

In the past decade, India’s pharmaceutical companies have blossomed into multibillion-dollar companies that now account for 40% of the generic drugs sold in the U.S. Those companies, however, have come under increased scrutiny in recent years from the U.S. FDA, for manufacturing, testing and other safety issues that are often the result of human error.

To ensure that their products don’t get banned from the U.S.—the world’s biggest drug market—many companies that can afford it are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to automate. …

Mr. Venkatanaryan, the head of the Dr. Reddy’s Bachupally plant, says the drive toward automation is meant to make the manufacturing process “mistake-proof.”

(more…)

Read Full Post »

There has been a lot written recently about the state and future of making stuff in the US. Just in the past month, Strategy & Business has touted new technology and software as a way forward for American manufacturing (America’s Real Manufacturing Advantage, Jan 20) while Steven Rattner, the administration’s former Car Czar, took the New York Times pooh-poohing talk of a revitalized manufacturing base (The Myth of Industrial Rebound, Jan 25). As Rattner sees it, whatever boost there has been in manufacturing has been inconsequential and not beneficial for workers.

But we need to get real about the so-called renaissance, which has in reality been a trickle of jobs, often dependent on huge public subsidies. Most important, in order to compete with China and other low-wage countries, these new jobs offer less in health care, pension and benefits than industrial workers historically received. …

This disturbing trend is particularly pronounced in the automobile industry. When Volkswagen opened a plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., in 2011, the company was hailed for bringing around 2,000 fresh auto jobs to America. Little attention was paid to the fact that the beginning wage for assembly line workers was $14.50 per hour, about half of what traditional, unionized workers employed by General Motors or Ford received.

With benefits added in, those workers cost Volkswagen $27 per hour. Consider, though, that in Germany, the average autoworker earns $67 per hour. In effect, even factoring in future pay increases for the Chattanooga employees, Volkswagen has moved production from a high-wage country (Germany) to a low-wage country (the United States).

This all gets us to a different New York Times on Harley Davidson that describes changes the firm made to save itself (Building a Harley Faster, Jan 28). What is interesting is that Harley’s approach differs fundamentally from either of the approaches above. They are relying on humans over widespread automation and working with their existing, unionized workforce as opposed to hightailing it to a location with cheaper labor. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Back in April of last year, we had a post discussing how Tesla managed to set up its Fremont factory on the cheap. Now Wired has a video showing just what happens in the factory (Peek Inside Tesla’s Robotic Factory, Jul 16).

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Last Monday I posted about Rethink Robotics’ Baxter robot which can be easily programmed to perform a variety of manufacturing tasks. And that very day, the Wall Street Journal had a story about a firm that uses Baxter robot (A Toy Maker Comes Home to the U.S.A., Mar 11)! K’Nex Brands makes a variety of plastic building sets that snap together to make any number of things. Over the last several years, they have moved much of their production from China back to Pennsylvania. There are a number of strategic reasons for the move.

By moving production closer to U.S. retailers, K’Nex said it can react faster to the fickle shifts in toy demand and deliver hot-selling items to stores faster. It also has greater control over quality and materials, often a crucial safety issue for toys. And as wages and transport costs rise in China, the advantages of producing there for the U.S. market are waning.

Robotics play a roll in this. They use the Baxter for “simple packaging tasks,” which sounds like the kind of thing that it would be impossible to have a human do more cost effectively in the US than in Asia.

But to my mind, the most interesting part of the article discusses the design trade offs that K’Nex has made to facilitate the move. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Check out this video:

The robot being demoed is Baxter, which is a new industrial robot and the brainchild of Rodney Brooks, the guy who brought you the Roomba. Here is how NPR describes the technology (Could This Robot Save Your Job?, Mar 9).

Rethink Robotics, describes Baxter as a collaborative manufacturing robot. Brooks showed how Baxter, which costs $22,000 per model, can work alongside humans — not replace them — to do simple, repetitive tasks. …

Baxter has eyes for feedback. Though its eyes don’t see you as a person, they serve as a signal as to what it’ll do next.

Normally robots need to be programmed, but this one learns by physical training. Move Baxter’s arm and it learns that’s how it should move its arm. In just a few minutes, the robot can be taught, for example, to take something out of a box and place it on a conveyor belt, then, after it’s assembled, put it back in a box.

So this is seriously a pretty gee whiz bit of technology but does it live up to the hype of working with humans and saving jobs? (more…)

Read Full Post »

So apparently America has a tire shortage — or at least a specialty tire shortage. And according to Automotive News, this has been going on for a while (Pirelli plant in Ga. masters small-batch, premium tires, Oct 11).

Over the last decade or so, the number of tire sizes used in the United States has nearly doubled, according to the consumer Web site TireRack.com.

Tom Gravalos, vice president of marketing for Pirelli & C. S.p.A., says: “All the carmakers want more variety and performance, particularly for performance vehicles. They are trying to make cars more unique, and consumers seem to like them.”

Cool tires would seem an easy way to make a vehicle distinctive — if only because their production is outsourced. Any complexity that comes with manufacturing low volume items is an issue for the tire maker, not for the car maker. But producing a wide variety in low volume could create problems in an industry accustomed to banging out hundreds of thousands of identical tires. That gets us to Pirelli’s Rome, Georgia, plant.

Pirelli, which has considerable experience producing specialty tires in Europe, has developed a tire production system meant for low-volume runs — which is where the Rome plant comes in.

A traditional plant typically might produce tires in batches of 80,000 to 100,000 units. By contrast, the Rome plant can comfortably produce tires in batches of 10,000 or so units, Gravalos said.

That’s perfect if you’re producing, say, an optional dealership-installed 21-inch tire for the Chevrolet Camaro.

The factory uses what Pirelli calls a “modular integrated robotized system,” or MIRS, to switch production quickly between different types of tires.

As long as the tires’ reinforcing belts and rubber compounds are the same, Pirelli’s factory can switch production back and forth quickly among different types of tires.

With only 250 employees, the Rome plant has a relatively small staff. It produces only 400,000 tires a year, according to Gravalos, while a typical mass-production tire plant might produce more than 5 million tires a year.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,007 other followers

%d bloggers like this: