KNOWING WHEN TO AUTOMATE YOUR LASER OPERATION
While it is quite common to evaluate the purchase of a laser cutting machine in great detail, much less consideration is given to what is required to keep that system in continuous operation. When automation is done properly and the right equipment is used, all of the components required for an individual system will run with a perfect flow of material, better quality, and lower costs per part.
Laser cutting machines continue to increase productivity levels through innovations in laser design, machine design and process improvements.
While it is quite common to evaluate in detail the purchase of a laser cutting system that can produce an adequate amount of parts per hour, there can be much less consideration of what is required to keep the machine in continuous operation.
Even the most effective laser cutting machines can suffer productivity losses due to lack of organization, attention and material flow.
Adapting automated material storage and handling (automation) into the workflow of the laser cutting process can increase overall productivity by organizing and reducing material handling tasks, delivering raw material when required and removing parts after they are produced. As a result of implementing automation, manufacturers typically notice a higher overall productivity rate.
Deciding if and when to implement automation varies with each manufacturing scenario, but there are some key factors that may identify your shop as a candidate.
When considering automation, the first thing that needs to be analyzed is how often the machine is utilized. If usage is a half a shift or less, then it does not make sense to consider automation as an option unless, however, there are large quantities of identical parts to be cut.
If the machine is running more than one shift per day with a large quantity of repetitive parts, then it is definitely considered a good candidate for automation.
When evaluating whether the addition of automation is a proper strategic investment, management should review the current number of shifts per day as well as the potential for an increased number of shifts as part of calculating their return on investment (ROI). More shifts per day will provide for a quicker ROI on automation.
Automation also provides a safer operation for the material handlers – an important consideration when deciding to invest in technology. Moving large, heavy sheets of material is best done by equipment produced specifically for that task.
Once the material has been received into the system, it does not need to be touched again by human hands until the finished product is on its way out of the machine production. The resulting increase in organization eliminates production delays due to locating and transporting raw material and finished parts.
In order to determine the right automation for their needs, a manufacturer must analyze what their rate of growth has been over the last few years. Once they have this information, it is used to calculate projections for a one-, two-, five- or 10-year business plan of what things could look like in the future for that company. This is the most effective method for determining where to begin in the process of automating your equipment.
With this information gleaned, the automation supplier is now able to plan and generate various phases of integration so that the manufacturer can purchase the automation in steps as they grow, as their production needs increase or change.
Economically, most companies do not have the available cash flow to purchase a complete automation cell all at once. The automation supplier can use current 3D technology to generate equipment layouts that make it extremely easy to project stages of the complete cell in the existing customer facility for their required process.
Each stage and its related costs can easily be modified as needed to adapt to the changing business environment of the manufacturer.
Over the years, I have worked with many customers who at first did not necessarily have a strong desire to automate their machines. We started by adding an automation component.
The users noticed that they had increased production right from the start, as well as steady machine run times and good quality product that resulted in customer satisfaction. They also did not have to rely on second or third shift operators as much anymore.
Once that initial step has been accepted and implemented into the regular daily production, then comes the next phase of automation – which leads to the addition of more automation to the production line.
One important benefit of automation is that the addition of such technology will allow each machine operator to run more than one machine at a time, which reduces the labor cost on the finished product.
With automation – when it is done properly and the right equipment is used – all of the machines required for an individual production system will run with a perfect flow of material. This benefit results in better quality and lower cost per part, and facilitates better material management.
About the Author: Lukas Baechler is a product manager of automation at Trumpf, Inc., 111 Hyde Road, Farmington Industrial Park, Farmington, CT 06032, 860-255-6052, Fax: 860-255-6678, email@example.com, www.us.trumpf.com.