Stories from the Trenches

One thing I came away with from last fall’s Summit was clear agreement that the race to digital manufacturing is on. The second takeaway was that there are a lot of questions about how and where to get started.

Industry 4.0 promises to bring about a revolution, built on information-driven operations that optimize efficiency, capacity, and innovation. The waves of innovation are coming faster and faster so it’s no wonder that for many of our customers, the excitement is tempered by pragmatism.

It’s only been a few years since the arrival of smart, collaborative robots that are able to bring automation to the 90 percent of tasks that were out of reach to traditional robots. Now, these robots are well-positioned to play a big role in accelerating the journey to the digital factory for manufacturers large and small.

In just the past few months, two companies that could not be any more different in size and scope of work have built models for testing and demonstrating scalable approaches to using robots in a factory of the future.

The first, Fla.-based Tuthill Plastics Group, never thought robots would be a viable solution for their needs. The work it does is highly customized, intensely repetitive, has a very low tolerance for variance and is often quick-turn. The company was not in a position to reconfigure lines, bring in integration experts and experiment with automation solutions that might or might not work. Now, with software-driven robots that are up and running in less than a week, Tuthill has deployed a solution that communicates with the equipment it is operating and provides feedback on performance. By starting on a single task, in a single cell, Tuthill is able to test, measure and refine its approach. The company will build its digital factory with success built one work cell at a time.

The second company, MS Schramberg, based in Germany, is no stranger to large-scale traditional automation. In it highly automated operation, the magnet manufacturer now uses three pairs of robots working as pairs in three work cells on complex logic tasks. In these cells, one robot selecting parts from an array of grid patterns and loading the part into the machine, while a second robot removes the part from the machine and loads the part into a tray.

Both scenarios illustrate the way that robots will contribute to the digital pivot – one task and one work cell at a time. For companies ready to dig in, this approach offers a digestible path to success that won’t leave them choking on the promise.

Originally published on Beet Fusion.