When it comes to automation, many think of mass production, corporations and large budgets. The modularized automation of production processes offers a great opportunity, especially for small and medium-sized companies: With customized solutions that can be flexibly designed, costs are reduced, and efficiency increases.
What has long been reality in the automotive industry sounds like dreams of the future for many companies in the machine tool industry: Automation of production processes. But the way there has long been known and, above all, unavoidable.
The consulting firm Oliver Wyman predicted 2016: “Mechanical engineering companies cannot avoid having to deal with modularization and standardization strategies. This not only reduces manufacturing costs by 15 to 25 percent, but also shortens throughput times and increases individualization rates. The prerequisite for this is a modular and intelligently automated production structure.
Everything is possible, nothing is necessary
These are above all opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises, which can maintain their competitiveness with the help of automation. “Automation has nothing to do with series production”, says Marcel Haltiner, Head of Automation at the clamping technology specialist Vischer & Bolli.
Together with partner companies, the company develops modular automation cells that can be adapted to the needs of customers. The target group: machining companies, machine and mould construction, medical technology and the automotive sector. “With an intelligent solution, automated production is possible from batch size 1,” says Haltiner. The concept behind it: modular components that can be designed flexibly.
The system can be flexibly expanded
Modularization does not mean standardization at all: “It is about finding the best solution for the specific requirements”, says Haltiner. “This means that we assemble the system individually, but the customer only has one contact person.”
The great advantage of this approach: When a machine is changed, the automation cell can be adapted, and modules can be exchanged. If necessary, the cell can be expanded to include driverless transport systems that deliver raw materials or remove finished parts.
“The concept of production cells allows a high degree of flexibility in mass production”, says Andreas Bauer, software architect at KUKA. “With robots and people working together, companies can coordinate unique production sequences”.
The result: the ability to deliver what the customer wants – with short delivery times and optimal pricing models that increase both sales and profitability.
Worthwhile entry into automation
For small and medium-sized companies, the step towards automation is always interesting. The worm gear screw jack manufacturer ZIMM, for example, was able to significantly increase its productivity and at the same time secure its competitiveness with the installation of a modular automation cell from Vischer & Bolli: “With the help of automation, the performance of the milling machine has doubled. At the same time, the employees can concentrate on value-adding activities. Manual intervention is only required to feed in material,” explains Marcel Haltiner.
In this way, ZIMM’s installation costs will pay for themselves in about two to three years. A worthwhile investment.