Reasons to Design Your Product Early for Automated Manufacturing

A product idea comes to mind during lunch and you sketch a concept on a napkin. Others share your enthusiasm and you can't wait to add more details and make a more formal design. It's satisfying when creative juices begin flowing, and now is the time to add a few mission-critical details like how to best use an automated assembly line.

Don't wait until after the green light is given to decide the right robot for the job, the right size motor, or how to automate quality control or packaging and palletizing. Your product might be made perfectly fine with manual labor, but even the traditionally labor-heavy garment industry is automating. Start as early as possible in the design process to reap the full benefits of automation.

One Decision Impacts Another

As a product idea emerges and takes shape, the methods that will be used to produce it must be taken into consideration. The production process impacts design, including what materials to use and what stages to automate.

As noted in the article Design Your Product for Producability, Design for Automation, about 85 percent of a product's cost is determined in the design stage. The benefits of laying out the objectives of the production process, such as mass customization, include reduced costs, increased efficiency, improved quality and a time to market that is as fast as possible.

Automated manufacturing brings separate components into a holistic process and can offer flexibility in getting the job finished. See the impact each component has on the other.

Choosing a Robot

Buying a robot requires that you take into consideration more than just the price. A fixed cell robot that repeats the same task over and over has certain benefits, while a flexible robot is designed for different tasks. As noted in the article Small Assembly Robots with Big Gains, the return on investment is greater than on any type of hard automation. A new tool can be put on the end of a flexible robot and the result can open possibilities to make products for completely new industries.

When purchasing a flexible robot, ask whether the robot arm and controller are sold separately or as a set. These options can impact the initial production cost, although the long-term cost of ownership will lead to greater profitability than traditional production methods.

Selecting Machine Vision

The use of machine vision during either the production phase or in quality control is another key consideration. Product design can impact which camera and lighting packages to use. Always go back to the primary purpose. Will you capture data to comply with regulations or do you need to catch defects in hundreds of parts moving on a high- speed conveyor?

There may be benefits in the use of the latest technologies even if the expense is slightly more, for example using color vision instead of monochrome vision. The article Color Vision Tackles Line Scan Applications points out that color produces at least three times more data than monochrome. More image-processing knowledge and engineering is required to run the system.

Companies concerned about how their packaging represents their brand may consider color vision since it's useful for inspecting label aesthetics. Other applications include grading visual appearance and assembly verification of wire harnesses.

Choosing Motor Size

Don't neglect what powers the equipment. An integrator who is qualified in setting up automated manufacturing systems or the manufacturer will likely install the motor. The article Understanding the Mysteries of Inertia Mismatch provides useful guidelines to follow and raises key issues like controlling a load effectively. As the article states, torque alone is not enough, especially in applications like 300 part-per-minute packaging or web printing where dozens of axes must be synchronized.

Automated manufacturing has benefits that can transform companies. Staying up with trainings and trends. Access informative videos, blog posts like this, and learn about key trainings on A3.