Automation of manual activities for increased competitiveness

Automation of manual activities for increased competitiveness

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Published by Geyssel
22/06/2023
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Automation is an inescapable but also a contentious subject. On the one hand, without extensive automation and the associated cost optimisation, German business cannot operate competitively on the global markets, while on the other, the loss of jobs is a topic that is discussed repeatedly. Find out more here about which tasks are likely to be automated first, what cost savings can be achieved, what role is played by automation and how a production company should address the issue of optimisation in its production activities.

Brief summary of main points

Definition of automation

Automation describes the use of technologies and processes to enable the execution of tasks or work processes without or with only minimal human interaction. This can be achieved by means of machines, software solutions, computers, robots or other automated systems. The human then only participates in monitoring or controlling the execution of the work.

Automation can be categorised as partial or full, depending on the degree of human interaction involved.

Partial automation

In partial automation, some process steps are performed automatically, while others are carried out manually by people. For example, in the manufacture of products from raw materials, rough or heavy work can be automated while finer tasks are performed manually.

Full automation

In full automation, the entire work process is performed by a machine or piece of software, without human interaction. A good example of full automation would be a self-driving vehicle.

Aim of automation

The aim of automation is for all manual work processes to be entirely undertaken by machines and software. Quality control is substantially integrated into the automation process and is executed by means of sensors, cameras and the like. Humans now only perform monitoring and inspection tasks with regard to the status and functioning of the machine. They intervene in the process only when errors or faults occur.

The overarching objective of automation is to rationalise processes, increase efficiency, reduce costs and reduce the rates of human error.

Application areas for automation

Automation can be used in a range of industries and applications, for example in manufacturing, in transport, in healthcare and in the financial industry. The following sectors are particularly suited to automated processes:

Classic applications of automation:

Relatively simple or repetitive/repeated actions that do not require trained personnel are ideally suited to automation. This allows savings to be made above all in low-skilled or unskilled personnel. In this way there tends to be an increase in jobs for better and highly-trained people, who are used to monitor the production processes.

Automation can be seen in a wide variety of industries.

New areas of automation

In addition to the classic areas with simple repetitive tasks, usually involving larger volumes and batch sizes, other work areas have begun to appear for automation that so far have still been carried out by more-or-less well-trained, specialist personnel. A good example here is the inspection of incoming goods, which calls for a certain level of specialist knowledge. In this area there are now devices that automatically check dimensions, quantities and tolerances. In addition, maintenance intervals can be automatically managed and incorrect feeds of components can be detected. Errors in the production process can also be automatically identified. Some of these optimisations are also grouped under the term autonomation.

Difference between mechanisation and automation

There is a key difference in the use of the two concepts.

The term mechanisation is often also used in connection with the automation of production processes. Mechanisation and automation both refer to the use of machines and technology in production systems, but there is a substantial difference between the two concepts.

Mechanisation refers to the use of machines to reduce the burden of manual tasks or to automate them, while humans continue to be involved in the production process. An example for mechanisation could be, say, the use of conveyor belts in a factory to transport goods from one station to another, with one person loading goods onto the belt at one end and another person removing them at the other.

Automation, on the other hand, goes a step further and refers to the use of machines and technology to automate a production process completely and to minimise or entirely eliminate human intervention. An example for automation is the use of robots to perform a particular task in a production line without human involvement.

Overall, the main difference between mechanisation and automation is the degree to which humans are involved in the production.

Autonomation as a further development of automation

Autonomation

Autonomation designates a production system in which errors are detected autonomously by machines during the production process itself, so that the production of faulty products is avoided and quality is assured.

The term autonomation is composed of the words ‘autonomous’ and ‘automation’. It describes a concept of industrial automation in which intelligent machines are capable of autonomously monitoring and controlling the production process. Thus autonomation goes beyond simple automation in that the machines can autonomously detect errors and stop immediately, before they cause more serious problems. This results in less wear to the machine and reduced time and costs, since reworking can be avoided by fault detection at an early stage. Autonomation can also be used as a basis for continuous improvement. Further, the ‘autonomous’ concept includes the sense that any employee can halt production at any time if errors or irregularities are detected.

The goal of autonomation is therefore quality assurance. A higher level of productivity and production efficiency should also be achievable in that the machines take decisions and control processes autonomously, while human management focuses on the solving of problems that the machines cannot resolve by themselves. In this way, waste as understood in Muda , in the form of rejects, errors and reworkings, can be counteracted.

The Jidōka concept

Autonomation became familiar as a significant element of Jidōka. These terms are often also used synonymously. The Jidōka principle was developed back in the 1920s by Japanese vehicle manufacturer Toyota and is now a firm component of the Toyota Production System (TPS). Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota, described the Jidōka concept as ‘intelligent automation’: The Jidōka concept aims to detect production faults directly at their source and to remove their causes, before they spread through the entire production process. A machine at Toyota may stop the production process automatically, for example, as soon as an error or fault (anomaly) is detected. The employees are then asked to examine the error, to determine the causes and to develop a solution, and in this way each issue resolution becomes simultaneously a learning process for the employees.

Thanks to these proactive fault detection, prevention and resolution processes, an autonomous quality assurance system is ultimately obtained, together with increased process efficiency. Time and costs are saved, there is less need for subsequent corrections, and wear to the systems is reduced. Here the Jidōka philosophy substantially has the objective that the human, in developing and implementing machines, always has the possibility of contributing themselves, as a result of which an effective cooperation is enabled between human and machine.

Benefits of automation

Autonomation and automation offer far more opportunities for optimising production than does pure mechanisation. We present the most significant aspects below.

Mechanisation, automation and autonomation optimise the production process

Automation as a medium for cost reduction

For German businesses, competitiveness on the global markets can only be achieved with professional cost management. An important element of this is automation. Longer machine run times, higher batch sizes and integrated production save personnel and create added value. Production in Germany can be made competitive by means of automation.

In the medium and long term, AI (artificial intelligence) can be used to automate additional, more complex tasks. This enables production to be further optimised.

Another important aspect of modern production is the continuous, preventive condition monitoring of machines, also known as preventive maintenance. The purpose of such preventive, regular maintenance of the machines is to prevent potential failures. In some cases, sensors, including microphones, can be used, thereby enabling the machines to monitor and analyse their own performance without interruption and to issue warnings at an early stage if an error or imminent malfunction is detected. The use of preventive maintenance technologies enables maintenance works to be planned and carried out more effectively, thus minimising production downtimes and interruptions.

With the aid of special intelligent machines from Geyssel, many companies have already been able to reduce their personnel costs while achieving higher batch sizes and better quality of their products. Put your trust in our extensive experience in design and special machine construction. We look forward to your enquiry!

Fewer unskilled workers required thanks to automation

By international comparison, personnel costs in Germany are very high. To enable simple, repetitive actions to be performed cost-effectively, personnel savings are unavoidable. Unskilled or only semi-skilled employees can be pared down the fastest and most simply through automation. It is exactly these employees who, by comparison internationally with workers from low-wage countries, are too expensive in Germany and harm competitiveness.

Example of automation in production

A good example of successful automation, which simultaneously reduces physical labour and cuts personnel costs, is an arm on a machine that automatically pushes products into crates. In this case, manual labour is taken over by a machine, which makes production more efficient and more cost-effective in the long run.

Reduced physical stress to employees

Since manual activities are performed by machines in automation, heavy physical work is no longer necessary and the health of employees is protected. At the same time it is easier to ensure good ergonomics in the workplace, since the tasks are now largely confined to monitoring and maintenance activities.

More jobs for trained personnel

With automation, specialists will still be needed for maintenance and troubleshooting. The need for such employees could indeed grow. On the other hand, in the long term automation could lead to capacities being freed up in areas in which trained personnel were required in the past. Since there is already a shortage of specialists in many areas, this could have a positive effect overall.

Sequence of automation with the aid of special machines

Some sub-processes have to be run through on the way to automation.

The route to intelligent special machines for automation generally runs as follows:

Identification of the processes in the company

At the start of any automation project, a detailed analysis is performed of all processes in the company, followed by an identification of those processes that tend to be suited to automation. It is advisable to involve a design office or a special machine builder from the identification stage at the latest, so that their experience can contribute to the process.

Defining the requirements of a machine

On the basis of the processes identified, the requirements are now defined for the special machine and for any additional modules that may be necessary. After this, the requirements are broken down into partial functions.

Devising proposals for solutions

Next, the design office or machine builder develops a range of solutions for all partial functions; these should then be discussed and examined.

Selecting the solution approaches

After this, discussions are held to decide which solutions should be developed further and how the future implementation can take place.

Preliminary testing & examining functionality

A good machine builder will test specific functions in advance where necessary and perform preliminary tests for important sub-areas.

Creating the basic concept

On the basis of the solutions chosen, an overall concept is then developed in cooperation with designers and programmers using the most modern methods and after this, the production documents for the machines are created.

Construction of the special machine for automation

Subsequently the developed machine(s) are constructed, ideally by an experienced and reputed special machine builder, on the basis of the design documents.

Commissioning of the special machine

The special machine should be commissioned and supported on site by experts. To ensure that not only the start but also all regular use of the machine runs without problems, the employees must also be provided with competent training. For this reason, training and instruction events are necessary, provided on site by specialist personnel selected by the machine builder. This also constitutes a mandatory condition for warranty claims concerning the machine.

Ideally, a maintenance contract is also concluded with the special machine builder. Regular, professional maintenance ensures the smooth functioning of the machine and prevents costly machine downtimes. The result is a comprehensive production system (total productive maintenance, TPM) that is as fault-free as possible.

Use our experience - we will be happy to advise you!

Summary

Automation is suitable above all for repetitive and simple manual actions, which can be performed by intelligent special machines. This makes enormous cost savings possible, particularly in the personnel sector. It enables production to be competitive in Germany. Would you also like to optimise your production processes with the aid of special machines? Get in touch with us! We have already been able to assist many businesses with our experience in special machine construction and design.

FAQ

Simple, repetitive manual actions that are generally performed by unskilled employees are particularly well-suited to automation.

Above all, automation enables personnel costs to be saved, as fewer unskilled employees are required. In addition, production processes are designed more efficiently and production volumes can be increased. With integrated quality controls, production defects and defective products are also reduced.

Autonomation refers to the use of intelligent machines that autonomously monitor and control the production process and also issue a warning automatically or stop the machine as soon as faults occur. Specialist personnel then determine the cause of the fault, resolve the problem and develop strategies to prevent the same fault occurring again.

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