Automated Manufacturing and the Need for Flexibility

In our last two blogs we’ve talked about the changing mindsets of consumers, and the effects those changes have had on manufacturing. In particular, we’ve looked at how access to a global market has made consumers more discerning with their tastes and purchasing habits. To compete for a consumer base with more options than ever before, companies have to offer more diversity in their product lines. Increased product diversity has created a need for more flexible manufacturing systems.

In the past, systems have been geared towards high volume output of a singular product. More and more, companies are looking for machinery that can accommodate smaller runs across a wider variety of parts, materials and manufacturing operations. This can mean allowing for different types of product inspection as well. To achieve all of this, flexibility needs to be built into the base manufacturing system. In this way, the door is open for new and different manufacturing cells and tooling to be added down the line. Allowing for these additions can mean investing more in the base machine. But the cost of that base machine is spread across more parts, and a longer life span as the machine can evolve with your product line.

Flexibility allows manufacturers to not only handle different products, but product improvements as well. Today, companies are presented with a tremendous amount of feedback on their products, requiring them to constantly update and upgrade those products. Flexible manufacturing systems allow manufacturers across an ever widening spectrum of industries to handle the changes and upgrades that invariably take place over a product’s lifecycle.

Process Validation and Vision Inspection – Increasing Quality with Immediate Feedback

Today, consumers can choose from products manufactured almost anywhere in the world. As a result, manufacturers are tasked with providing higher quality products at lower prices in order to stay competitive.  Automated process validation systems offer a way to achieve both goals simultaneously.

Process validation is the inspection of each part at every station in the production line. The results of each inspection are recorded, and each part is given a unique identification number. Before a part can be processed by station 2, it is inspected to make sure that it has passed station 1. At station 3, the part is inspected to make sure that it has come through both stations 1 and 2 exactly as it should. If there is a defect, you’re aware of it immediately and the problem can be corrected before production continues.

Process validation is built around the use of vision inspection equipment. In the past, this equipment was “high end,” and thereby expensive to incorporate into an automated manufacturing system. Today the price of the equipment has come down, making its use much more commonplace. At the same time, the technology has continued to evolve and it boasts more features now than ever before. Vision inspection systems look at each part, compare them to a master template and look for any variations.

As we mentioned in our last blog, the immediacy provided by process validation systems can be contrasted with the spot checking “Go, No Go” systems of the past. Using “Go, No Go” you open yourself up to down time in production as you search for the station where defective manufacturing occurred. In addition, you end up with potentially large batches of defective parts. And if you miss a defective part, it could go on to hinder your client’s production chain, or cause them to issue a recall on their own products. Wasted time and wasted product are things no business can afford, and process validation systems are essential to avoiding that unnecessary waste.

Quality control, inspection and traceability are no longer luxuries afforded to only the biggest companies. They’re tools available to every manufacturer, and they’re essential for survival in a global market.