Engineering Tomorrow, Today: How Does Automation Fit Into Your Manufacturing Operations?

Engineering Tomorrow, Today: How Does Automation Fit Into Your Manufacturing Operations?

Originally published on Celestica’s blog

Manufacturing automation technologies are receiving more attention and consideration for implementation across numerous industries. These technologies are mature with proven effectiveness, and senior leaders may be advocating the automation of processes because they recently read a success story about how another company is using the technology to improve quality, reduce costs and speed time-to-market.

However, the highly regulated industries that Celestica serves have unique requirements for quality, traceability and scalability that drive additional complexity when applying automation technology.  Designing and operating a fully integrated automated assembly line in Aerospace & Defense (A&D), Healthcare, and Smart Energy requires specialized expertise and a deep understanding of the market and end user requirements. It also has to be cost-effective and deliver the benefits the customer expects.

Celestica takes a consultative approach to developing automation solutions that deliver maximum ROI. When we assess a customer’s production process for the first time, the priority is to evaluate how automation could address existing interrupts by replacing manual processes and maximize the utilization of assets.

At Celestica, we have a long heritage in delivering engineering excellence.  Our engineers are among the best in the industry, boasting a broad range of skills and technical capabilities to solve customer challenges’. We work with each customer to tailor solutions for their most complex problems and addressing their unique needs. This is key to improving product quality and traceability, which is especially critical in highly regulated industries like aerospace and healthcare. Our expertise enables us to help these companies that are working with advanced electronics and/or are producing very complex products maintain a strong compliance posture.  Together with our customers and our people we are engineering, tomorrow today.

Dr. Kevin Dempsey, Celestica’s Director of Global Automation, recalls a recent visit to a Celestica customer in the communications industry. The Celestica team spent a few days with the company’s product designers and engineering teams looking at every potential manufacturing failure mode, whether automation technologies would succeed in eliminating it, and also how automation could improve materials testing and measuring processes. Celestica presented the customer with a detailed list of recommendations for 60 product changes to facilitate automated assembly.

“I can’t imagine a successful factory in five years that has not implemented some form of automation, but they will only be successful if they respect the complexities, time and money required to do it well,” adds Dempsey. “It is imperative to invest today in engineering talent and partner with a trusted expert like Celestica to determine the first steps. When you do the work up front, the results will follow.”

Automation also solves for scalability issues created by talent shortages. Factories all over the world, including traditional low-cost geographies like China, are experiencing severe labor market shortages even though wage rates have more than doubled. One of the most common questions we receive from prospective customers is “what is your labor turnover ratio?” They know how that negatively impacts quality, delivery and cost. Implementing automation technologies ensures that fluctuations in your labor force will not adversely affect your ability to meet your customers’ high expectations for product quality and fast delivery.

While we facilitate the benefits of automation for our customers, we are equally committed to ensuring they don’t try to apply automation where it’s not appropriate. For instance, a facility may produce a large number of SKUs, but in low volumes. The cost of automating those processes will be higher than the cost-savings the company realizes. Or maybe robots simply can’t make legacy products that include wires with intricate connections.

The cost for implementing an end-to-end automated line for a product comprised of ten components can range anywhere between $1 million – $20 million (USD). The price tag for starting with discrete modules of automation, such as a six axis robot that takes over some manual processes, is much less – tens of thousands of dollars, not millions. The key number to determine is whether the annual cost savings will be sufficiently large to cover the capital costs of investment in automation technologies.

“We work with our customers to identify high volume applications to spread capital costs out over more units. Ideally, we want to target 20 parts per minute, although that is not a universal rule,” says James Jonakin, Celestica’s Director of Global Sales for HealthTech. “A company that has created a life-saving medical device may not produce that many units, but automation can accelerate product development for rapid market entry while ensuring consistent quality, compliance to strict regulatory requirements, and avoiding post-launch issues.”

Implementing new technologies is just the first step to realizing the potential benefits of automation. The mindset of running an automated line is much different compared to a manual operation, but engineering tomorrow, today is critical to enabling future success.  Learn more about Celestica’s automation capabilities and how we are enabling success for our customers in highly regulated industries.

We’ve only addressed the very first steps any organization should take when implementing automation technologies. Future posts will address other key considerations, including how to minimize interruptions by focusing on the “4 M’s”:

  1. Materials
  2. Machines
  3. Measurement
  4. Muscle: the physical skills, training and knowledge today’s complex manufacturing processes require workers to have.