The Importance of Automation In Manufacturing For the Environment

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If we're going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we'll need to improve efficiencies in manufacturing. That can be achieved in a range of different ways. One such strategy is automation in manufacturing.

If there's any industry that embraces automation in manufacturing, it's, without a doubt, the automotive industry. This post will walk through a few examples of automation in the industry. We'll also discuss how automation impacts workers and make a few predictions regarding the future of automotive manufacturing. 

3D Printing 

Currently, the automotive 3D printing market is valued at about $760 million. Following an increase in the cost of raw materials, the automotive industry has turned to seek cost-efficient solutions. 

Automotive manufacturers such as Volkswagen have been using the technology in their production line. In 2016, they purchased Ultimaker 3D printers and started producing tools internally. By 2017, they had produced over 93% of their tools. In 2018, the company opened a 3D printing facility. 

3D printing technology offers a better alternative for printing tools and, eventually, automotive parts. In the years to come, more companies are expected to jump on the bandwagon. Printing 3D parts can reduce logistics costs and the associated emissions toll.

That's important for companies involved in the automotive supply chain, alongside automobile manufacturers. Alongside reducing the length of the supply chain, it also can reduce the steps in manufacturing components.

Robotics 

50% of industrial robots are used in the automotive industry. The significant investment in robotics makes the automotive industry the biggest investor in automation. Robots in manufacturing improve efficiencies. This means fewer funds invested in the production of vehicles and energy savings in production.

The Rise of Automation: How Robots May Impact the U.S. Labor Market | St.  Louis Fed

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Robotics companies such as Rethink Robotics based in Boston manufacture collaborative robots that help with handling materials, testing and inspecting, and packaging finished products. Tennplasco, an automotive parts manufacturer, uses co-bots from Rethink Robotics to build their parts. 

Robots reduce on-site injuries since they are programmed to handle dangerous tasks creating a safe environment for workers. They can also be programmed to handle new tasks making adaptation to technological advancements easier. 

Internet of Things 

The Internet of Things (IoT) is currently one of the game changers in the automotive industry. Future projections show that the IoT market will reach 82.8 billion by 2022.

The Internet of Things has created an opportunity for car manufacturers worldwide to bring something new to the table. IoT makes it possible for multiple devices to be connected. 

This means that companies can quickly gather data on manufactured products that will enable them to modify or improve on designs. Newer models will be designed and manufactured based on data gathered in real-time, ensuring accuracy.

Is Automotive Automation the Death of Assembly-Line Workers?

One of the major concerns that have arisen with the introduction of automation is job security. However, humans and machines have been working hand in hand for years. 

When asked in an interview whether robots will take over the automotive industry, Tom Shoupe, the chief operating officer at Honda's manufacturing unit, answered, "we can't find anything to take the place of the human touch and human senses like sight, hearing, and smell".

The automotive company Honda uses robots for welding and painting. However, humans are still needed to perform some tasks that robots can't perform effectively. 

Automotive Automation and Adaptation to New Technology 

As we've seen from the earlier points, automation is not just the future of manufacturing. Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) must make concerted efforts to anticipate, prepare, and adapt to the changes. Let's break it down.

OEMs must constantly anticipate changes and trends within the automobile manufacturing industry; otherwise, they'll quickly be left behind. OEMs must set up and equip their departments, especially Research and Development departments, to quickly spot trends and advise the C-suite leadership on what actions to take. 

What's more, manufacturers must prepare for automation in their workflow. First, employees must be psyched to understand that automation won't take away their jobs. Rather, it's an opportunity to upskill and improve efficiency. Workers must go through constant training sessions to be ready to adapt to workflow shifts. 

What Does the Future Look Like for Automation in Manufacturing? 

If we're going to hit emissions reduction targets to avoid the worst impacts of global warming, we'll need to make substantial changes to our lives. One key element where change is needed is the way we manufacture goods. 

Adaptation to new technology is not easy. However, manufacturers who have success in mind should be open to change. They should be willing to invest in automation to improve their output and reduce energy usage.