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An ROI Approach to Budgeting

results-productionDetailed evaluation of anticipated return on investment for each prioritized project helps gain project approval and maximize project results.

In my last two blogs, I discussed the importance of an automation roadmap and how to get started developing one. Hopefully, you’ve created a prioritized list of potential projects and are now ready to tackle how to budget for them.

Many people seem to think that in order to establish a budget, they need to develop a spec, reach out to vendors and conduct a formal Request for Quotation (RFQ) process. All of this takes a lot of time and energy, so I hope it is welcome news that I do not recommend this approach. Rather, look at it from a Return on Investment (ROI) perspective.

What payback period does your company expect on each investment? A two-year ROI seems to be an undocumented industry standard, but each company will have its own. Meeting or beating that payback timeline is typically important for project approval. Continue Reading →

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Boeing retools Renton plant for 737’s big ramp-up

After finishing systems installation, a Boeing 737 is prepared for wing installation at Boeing’s 737 assembly plant in Renton. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)

After finishing systems installation, a Boeing 737 is prepared for wing installation at Boeing’s 737 assembly plant in Renton. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)

Boeing is transforming its 737 plant in Renton with new automation as it prepares to ramp up production to the unprecedented rate of 52 jets per month, or even more.

Six shiny, green 737 fuselage shells, freshly delivered by train from Wichita, Kan., sit snugly cradled in a steel superstructure like giant eggs in a carton at Boeing’s Renton factory.

Underneath, swarming mechanics install the guts of each airplane — wads of insulation blankets, snaking bundles of electrical wiring, intricately intertwined metal hydraulic tubes and pumps.

But despite appearances, those fuselages aren’t trapped in steel.

Soon, the steel walkways encasing the jets will lift away like drawbridges, freeing the fuselages to slide 150 feet forward during the night into the next position in Boeing’s newest moving assembly line.

The factory, already a showcase of efficiency with its two final-assembly lines churning out 42 of the single-aisle jets monthly, is gearing up by 2018 to build them at a prodigious pace of 52 a month — and later perhaps even more.

A key step is extending the use of moving assembly lines to the back-end shops where mechanics build the wings and stuff those fuselage shells. Continue Reading →

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Automating the Manufacturing White Space

iStock_000008833592Large I’m an engineer at heart. I love to solve technical challenges. When I walk through a modern factory I’m looking for just that: challenges to solve. Most factories today have done an admirable job of automating their primary processes. When I visit factories, I see machine centers humming away, dutifully performing the tasks they have been designed to do. But when I look closer I still see challenges. Almost every factory I work with is still operating with automation silos – highly efficient and productive islands of automation that are not connected, and whose inputs and outputs are still manual. I call the space between the automation silos the Manufacturing White Space. And it is ripe for automation.

In the discipline of process management, this “white space” is where important handoffs happen. It is also where many organizations have the greatest potential for improvement. The manufacturing white space is chock full of people – people handling product and people handling information. And anywhere a manufacturer has people touching product or dealing with information, a manufacturer has a candidate for automation. Continue Reading →

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A case study: Collision Avoidance

3D modelThe painting of Boeing airliners is done by skilled artisans who need to work quickly and accurately. As they work, they travel along the plane on movable platforms. They get very close to the plane, but the platforms must never be allowed to collide with the aircraft. An existing collision avoidance system had a few frustrating limitations, so Boeing hired Concept Systems to develop a better solution.

SUMMARY

The problem

To paint each airliner, a crew of Boeing painters moves along the plane on eight moveable platforms that are controlled by the painters themselves. But the movement of the platforms must be constrained to prevent them from ever colliding with the plane. Boeing’s previous collision-avoidance system used a very coarse 3-D virtualization of the plane that sometimes prevented painters from moving the platform exactly where they wanted it. Additionally, when a new airplane model came into production, the painting hangar would be out of service for several days to update the system.

The solution

Concept Systems integrated various existing technologies to build an efficient automated collision-avoidance system. One of the breakthroughs was finding software developed at the University of North Carolina called the Proximity Query Package, which can detect approaching collisions between two different computer-generated objects. Integrated with Open Graphics Library and Boeing’s own design software, the system can build precise virtual representations of the situation in the painting hangar at any moment and then make complex decisions about what platform movements are allowed. Continue Reading →

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Random bin picking just got easier

robotic-pick-place2You want your robot to accurately and repeatably pick up random parts. SICK’s PLB 3D vision system makes that an easy task. It integrates a wide array of software packages that turn your PLB hardware into eyes and a brain for your robot.

Many 3D scanners on the market ignore the software side of things, so you and your integration team have to select software and configure it correctly. Now, you don’t have to worry about that. The SICK PLB, a next generation 3D vision scanner, was designed from the ground up as a random bin picking solution that integrates out-of-the-box very well with your chosen robot system.

The power of the SICK PLB scanner is not just the software packages that are integrated for you, but also the new generation triangulation type laser scanner, which captures the whole laser picture with no visible movement. You can mount the laser in a fixed location using a simple frame, where previous generations required the use of a conveyor or a robotic movement to see the product. Continue Reading →

Creating a Prioritized List for Your Automation Roadmap

Identify where existing capabilities are furthest from aligning with what will be needed to achieve business and production goals.

In my last blog, I urged manufacturers to establish an “automation roadmap” to help plan and prioritize technological upgrades over a set period of time.

As I travel and talk to customers, I am encouraged to hear that more and more folks are doing exactly this. Manufacturers, in general, understand how technology can boost quality, efficiency and production in their plants. And many of them are realizing the value of proactively deploying new technologies as they emerge. Maximizing these returns is what the automation roadmap is about.

With so many folks catching on, the chances are your competition has an automation roadmap in place, regardless of whether you have one or not. And simply put, if they have one and you don’t, you’re in danger of being outpaced.

No one wants to be left behind, so read on to learn how to get started.
Continue Reading →

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