Is Going Automated Worth the Investment?

With new technology comes change in the way we do everyday things.  For instance I spend about 5 minutes, before I even get out of bed, checking the weather for the week, reading through my emails and texts, checking my Facebook updates, and maybe even playing a word or 2 on Words With Friends.  Sometimes I’ll text my husband or one of my sons about something that needs to be taken care of or to ask co-workers if they need anything for the shop on my way in and then update my shopping list.  I haven’t even left my bed yet and I’ve already done so many things that I couldn’t have done, from the comfort of my bed, without my smartphone.  Now I did have to spend a few hundred dollars on this phone so that I would be able to do these things, but it saves me a lot of time searching the internet or reading a newspaper (which hardly anyone does anymore anyways) for the exact same information.  Not to mention, when I show up at work I won’t have to turn around and head back to town to get supplies for the shop because I made sure to text everyone first.  This is definitely a cheap comparison when talking about the investment needed to make some of your processes automated at work, but you get where I’m going with this.

Automated machines most definitely cost more than traditional machines.  It’s not a minor price difference either.  We’re talking tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars more.  However, you really have to look at long term benefits to see why it may be worth the initial cost.   First of all, you immediately up your work capacity.  More work equals more income, especially if you don’t have to hire more workers to run the new machine because once you set it up it mostly runs itself.  Secondly, once you’ve gotten past the learning curve of the new machine, it no longer has to be tended to the way a manual machine does.  Of course you will need to check on it, change or sharpen tools and measure parts regularly to make corrections, but it doesn’t have to be babysat constantly so one person can work multiple machines.  Not to mention the machine no longer has an 8 hour work day.  Depending on your set up and what you’re making, it can run 24 hours a day, giving you lights-out options. 

Here at Crosswind we have a job that is running almost every single day that we are open.   Out of approximately 250 work days a year, this machine runs probably 200 of those days.  The process is fairly automated with the main problem being that every minute and a half someone has to open the door, move the oil lines out of the way, remove the part, put the oil lines back, close the door, and then press start again.  Because this happens every minute and a half we must have a person dedicated to this job.  In between parts they measure and countersink the pieces, but again, they have to stop what they’re doing every 90 seconds.  Also, there is a bar feeder, but it is single bar only so every time the bar runs out, another one must be loaded. 

 If a couple of improvements were made to this job to make it more automated, it would leave the machinist free to work on another machine while coming over to measure a part every hour or so.  Between checking parts and deburring them that would leave about 5 hours per 8 hour shift of time for another job to be worked on.  That’s 25 hours more per week or 1300 hours per year.  Assume that you pay your operator $15/hr, you’ve just gotten that much more work done without spending the $19, 500 annual salary (plus more for insurance and benefits), to have another body there loading bars and opening the door to remove the part.  That’s only for the one operator now free to work on other jobs and only one machine upgraded.  Not to mention there would now be a higher output on the machine leaving more free time to run other jobs on it.

When you have a human running the machine they get distracted or caught up in other things like taking breaks, talking to other people, walking away to check on another job or helping a co-worker.  These small increments o f time add up to hours per week.  Automation and robotics also removes the human factor when it comes to mistakes.  Measurements on product won’t deviate from one part to the next. 

It’s hard to match prices from shops overseas with countries like China and India.  However with the advantages of automation comes the opportunity to bid at a lower hourly shop rate and become more competitive.  Automation isn’t lazy machining; it’s efficiency and that equals money.

Check out these articles below for more on the subject.



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