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Considerations for Automation in Manufacturing


Companies across many industries are increasingly turning to automation as a way to streamline processes and production. Implementing such a system has various effects on a company, some more attractive than others. Labor costs, production rates, and defects are all impacted by automation and should be considered carefully by a company prior to implementation. Boeing is one local company that has recently moved towards automation.

Since 2014, Boeing has turned more to automation in its plane production to compete with its soaring competitor, Airbus. Until recently, employees drilled the fuselages for the 777 line of airplanes, but have since been replaced by robotic arms which are also being used to paint the wings of the airplane. This automation was designed to be advantageous for production rates. Factory flow time was expected to be reduced as was the percentage of defects in the process. This change was designed for Boeing to churn out more planes to stay competitive in the budding rivalry with Airbus. Of course, process improvements can come with a price and its own set of side-effects.

In reality, the transition to automation has turned out to be somewhat of a headache for Boeing. Combined with the monstrous initial investment in the automation technology, implementation of the processes has been anything but seamless. The machines have struggled to do the jobs correctly and have backed up the work for mechanics to complete. This is one of several negative impacts that automation could have on a business. Increased layoffs, unpredictable machine repairs, and massive up-front costs are all potential downsides to an automated process.

It’s easy to say automation is the future of manufacturing, as the technology is certainly moving in that direction. However, it’s no slam-dunk that a company will have a smooth transition when investing in a new process. It is important to consider the effects of potential problems and to understand the risk that comes with such a pivotal decision. So before takeoff, be sure to prepare for turbulence.



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