Making the right automation and robotic decisions

The vision of the MTC (The Manufacturing Technology Centre) is to challenge the boundaries and inspire Great British manufacturing and innovation. COVID-19 has presented construction with one of the biggest challenges, and also the opportunity to do things differently. Chris Brown MTC’s head of Industrial Liaison talks in detail about the organisation’s work with Automation and Robotics…

“We work with a diverse range of companies to develop and prove innovative processes and technologies, delivering bespoke manufacturing solutions. Our expertise is directly relevant to both large and small companies and across a wide range of sectors, where they strive to create a high-quality environment for the development of new processes and technologies on an industrial scale. Our wealth of experience is gained from accessing difficult and challenging processes and successfully working with companies to implement the right manufacturing solutions, ensuring they are fit for purpose, as it is definitely not the case of one size fits all.”

Automation and Robotics is one technology area that is currently getting a lot of focus in the construction sector, an area in which the UK lags behind – achieving only the global average of 85 robots per 10,000 manufacturing employees, compared to Germany who boast 322 robots per 10,000 manufacturing employees (IFR).

One reason automation and robotics is currently at the forefront of company’s minds is to mitigate risk and understand how to keep employees safe in the new working environment that COVID-19 has created. Automation could support this by allowing staff to keep their distance, increasing efficiency taking boots off site, making hazardous jobs easier and increasing productivity.

It’s easy to say, ‘let’s automate this’, although it is key to really understand if it is the right thing for a business and a product. Developing a new process isn’t a case of ‘drag and drop’ – each process needs to be broken down, analysed and understood to ensure that what is being recommended actually has a business case and justification for being implemented, rather than being a knee-jerk reaction. This is where MTC’s extensive experience in multiple sectors really makes a difference. As a process agnostic organisation, we help break down processes into manageable chunks, understand where a new process could add value and what that process could be.

The key reasons automation fails
If automation is the way forward for a business MTC supports in navigating some of the reasons automation fails, such as:

  • Incorrect analysis of the task to be automated
  • Incorrect or insufficient calculation of the costs and returns of proposed equipment
  • Bad specification of equipment
  • Delivery of an ineffective solution
  • Unanticipated changes to product demand
 

By analysing a business and process we can help make sure automation is not dropped into an unprepared environment which is unlikely to work out and could cost a business money.

Turnkey solution for casting company
Size isn’t everything, MTC works with a range of companies from large global players to smaller, local SMEs. An example of one of the companies MTC have worked with, is a casting company who produce a high-volume range of parts. They had reached peak production using manual operators and had the finances to purchase new CNC’s but lacked the space to install them.

MTC’s transformation team worked with them to understand their business and processes, identifying what they wanted to achieve and successfully helped them implement a robust automation process which allowed them to:

  • Free up machine time
  • Decrease lead times
  • Take on more work
  • Increase profitability

 

By reviewing the whole manufacturing process that the company currently employed, MTC were able to suggest a low risk solution that facilitates sustained growth and increased profitability in their market.

Robots in construction
As a research facility, MTC also works on industry wide projects, one of these is researching the use of robotics in offsite construction and infrastructure. Capable of lifting the side of a pre-fabricated house, the floor-mounted FANUC M200iA/2300 can lift 2.3 tonnes and is being used as part of the MTC’s role in developing advanced manufacturing and assembly processes for the construction industry. This project is crucial in the work being undertaken by the Construction Innovation Hub’s Platform Design Programme working on designing buildings using a predefined ‘kit of parts’ using manufacturing techniques in a factory environment.

For more information on how MTC can assist in understanding if automation and robotics could play a part in your manufacturing processes contact Chris Brown, Industrial Liaison (chris.brown@the-mtc.org).