How automation enables production reshoring

How automation enables production reshoring

Many manufacturers are moving their operations and services to North America to protect themselves from supply chain risks and better position themselves for success. By relying on industrial automation technologies, companies performing reshore operations can minimize economic impact by maintaining product quality, increasing efficiency and productivity and, ideally, attracting talent in the face of growing labor shortages.

Supply chain ripples and shockwaves

Trade issues between the US and China have strained the supply chain between the two countries for several years. Higher tariffs on US imports from China have reduced Chinese exports to the US and spending on US imports of Chinese goods. By withdrawing from the European Union, the UK negatively impacted the supply chains between the two entities. A McKinsey survey showed that Brexit’s effect on the supply chain could persist for a decade or more.

Texas-based aerospace robotics company Wilder Systems has implemented a FANUC CRX-10iA collaborative robot (cobot) as part of a system that increases COVID-19 testing capacity to 2,000 samples per day. (Provided by Wilder Systems)

While these trade tensions have created significant supply chain ripples for affected countries, the COVID-19 outbreak has sent shockwaves across the globe. The COVID-19 blockade, social distancing and labor shortages have disrupted the flow of raw materials and finished products. The pandemic has highlighted supply chain vulnerabilities and accelerated some existing problems.

At the end of 2020, Ernst & Young surveyed 200 senior-level supply chain executives across multiple US companies with over $ 1 billion in revenue. Only 2% of the companies that responded were fully prepared for the impact of the pandemic on production, while 57% experienced severe disruptions.

In response, around 60% of companies retrain their workforce to adapt to digital technologies, while 63% plan to invest more in artificial intelligence and robotics.

Automation technologies can improve efficiency, increase productivity and increase revenue. But when manufacturing operations are overseas, the supply chain can still be disrupted, as the last year and more has shown. Consequently, reshoring has become the last buzzword.

Restoration and rejuvenation

A recent Thomas survey showed that 69% of North American companies in the industrial sectors are likely to relocate production and procurement. In this way, according to respondents in a Deloitte survey, it will improve logistics, labor costs and production quality; combat intellectual property theft; and offer better proximity to North American markets.

These companies will create a diverse supplier network that future-proofs operations in terms of procurement of raw materials, components and finishing services. For companies to meet demand and maintain product quality, optimum productivity, profitability and efficiency after reshoring, automation technologies are a necessity.

Automation that goes on

Automation offers numerous benefits, one of which involves employees. Attracting talent for manufacturing jobs has proved difficult. By 2028, the US economy could have up to 2.4 million open manufacturing jobs, according to a 2018 report from Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute.

Introducing robots to the production area can serve two purposes in terms of talent. First, employees removed from potentially hazardous environments are free for more value-added work. Second, younger employees may be more attracted to positions using automation and “smart factory” solutions that power e-commerce, retail and just-in-time inventory systems.

When integrated into manufacturing processes, robots help ensure consistent, high-quality products, while increasing efficiency, productivity and revenue, 24/7. Let’s take a look at life examples how robots quickly add value to manufacturing operations.

Supply for the production of diagnostics

When COVID-19 cases in the United States increased dramatically, a diagnostic manufacturer contacted ESS Technologies to build two automated locking torque fill systems for vials for use in virus test kits. The manufacturer urgently required a system capable of filling up to 120 vials per minute. Developed in semi-automatic and fully automated configurations, the flexible filling / capping system uses a circular disc conveyor that transports vials or small bottles to an inline filling system. A synchronization screw places six vials at a time under a six-deck dip nozzle assembly, where a precise amount of diagnostic reagent is dispensed into the vials.

FANUC’s SR-6iA SCARA robots and a cap feeder automate cap placement and a three-position final torque station applies a precise amount of torque to the caps. The machine uses Allen-Bradley PLCs and a 6 “(152.4 mm) color touchscreen Human Machine Interface (HMI) to simplify operation. During production, the system allows for a format changeover of less than 10 minutes.

A second diagnostic product manufacturer hired ESS Technologies to build several end-of-line packaging systems consisting of 13 robots for the collection, cartoning and packaging of sterile test kits. The ESS system offers fast turnaround times, allowing the manufacturer to increase production capacity.

“As a key manufacturer to the pharmaceutical and diagnostic industries, ESS partnered with suppliers to keep the supply chain flowing and we were able to deliver two complete systems within weeks,” said Kevin Browne, president and founder. by ESS Technologies.

Cobots face COVID-19

Texas-based aerospace robotics company Wilder Systems has implemented a FANUC CRX-10iA collaborative robot (cobot) as part of a system that increases COVID-19 testing capacity to 2,000 samples per day and delivers results to people faster. of other test sites.

Designed to perform saliva-based PCR testing using standard electrical power, the system requires an operator to load the tube trays and select them on an operator interface to begin the testing process. The cobot arm loads trays of samples into an oven for thermal deactivation of the virus, if present. Meanwhile, the chemicals and reagents are loaded into robotic liquid handlers for pipetting. Samples are processed through an automated pickling machine independent of the tubes to remove and discard caps. The tubes are then loaded into robotic liquid handlers to prepare and reformat the samples on a well plate.

The samples are ready for testing and the cobot takes over the well plate, which is heat sealed before entering the RT-PCR machine, which analyzes the samples for the presence of the coronavirus. After the lab has logged out, the final output of the results is delivered to the patient via email or a secure portal.

A path forward

According to a Deloitte survey, for some time now, offshoring has helped companies reduce labor and logistics costs and enter new markets. Recent events, however, have highlighted the vulnerabilities associated with such an operation when it comes to the supply chain.

As companies re-shore, advanced automation technologies will offset some of the additional costs while maintaining product quality and optimal productivity. Furthermore, technology can help attract talent in an increasingly shallow pool of manpower. While the events leading to a nationwide focus on reshoring have been dire, automation technologies offer a productive and prosperous path for U.S. manufacturing.


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