Megan R. Nichols,
Freelance Technical Writer
Industrial spring manufacturing is something of a problematic subject for engineers because often they have incredibly nuanced design processes, which make them particularly challenging to assemble or handle. There are many variables involved in the spring development process, and each application of them is different. Springs might appear in pens, syringes, lightbulbs, valves, small electronics and much more.
While they are a rather inexpensive component of most builds, springs cause plenty of headaches, especially when detangling is involved.
Yet, we have manufactured springs for decades, which begs the question, why does this genuinely matter? Can’t we go on building and using them the same way we always have?
Not quite. In the face of modern industry, many legacy solutions must move forward, improving with the help of today’s technology. One of the most prominent solutions in manufacturing, which improves efficiency exponentially, is the use of automation.
Why Automation Is More Necessary Than Ever
Many things are happening in the market that call for the use of faster, more accurate development processes. For starters, materials costs are rising considerably worldwide, mainly for metal-based springs. Additional resource costs are also rising, such as manual labor, power and fuel. Finally, many factors have contributed to a need for faster product-to-market cycles. Customers especially want to see their goods delivered faster, at near-instant speeds.
Collectively, all of these things have contributed to efficiency demands that are far beyond the boundaries of conventional operations. Queue automation, which — when used appropriately — can revolutionize a development process and speed the entire operation up.
The trick is deploying a system that can accurately build springs, using the many required specifications. Spring steels are alloys made out of various materials. A build might start with a small portion of iron, which is then combined with other elements like carbon, manganese, silicon or chromium. The application of the spring determines the elements used, along with their amounts and the properties needed.
How often will the spring be compressed or stretched, for example? Will it be exposed to extreme hot or cold temperatures?
Then there’s the matter of choosing between the many types of springs, such as galvanized, oil-tempered or coated springs, in addition to the different manufacturing processes they require. There’s a lot to consider when developing and automated platform to build spring-based components.
Automation may undoubtedly be necessary to deal with the evolving market, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an easy equation to solve.
What Benefits Can Automation Provide?
To make an argument in support of automation, it’s necessary to consider the benefits it has to offer. Do they outweigh any difficulties that might arise?
The labor shortage has hit the manufacturing market pretty hard, with the spring field being no exception. Over just the last five years, the talent pool has dried up considerably, leaving many operations understaffed and overextended.
Advanced automation can alleviate this by handling most of the tasks that human laborers otherwise would, not just cutting down on labor needs but also improving output at the same time. Besides, it also eliminates the need to implement extensive training programs for new hires, as the automation tools will be handling most of the work.
On top of that, here are some of the other things that a well-placed automation system can improve:
• Work environments are safer, as automation systems can handle the more dangerous tasks.
• Productivity improves across the board, as does product quality and accuracy.
• Fewer errors occur due to human input.
• Less manual labor is needed, which means lower salary, wage costs and more.
Where to Start: Quick Tips for Automation
Challenges aside, automation has so much to offer the springs manufacturing industry. With the current state of the market, evolving demands and an even greater need for continued growth, automation is one of the few guaranteed solutions out there.
Innovative solutions that are currently taking hold can make the entire process a little easier. 3D printing, for example, has incredible potential in springs manufacturing. Of course, some actionable tips may help, too.
1. Start Small
Dip your toes in the water by automating a single task or function. There will be some setbacks as you implement a new system, which you will learn to overcome. That’s precisely the point. By starting with a small focus, you learn how things are done and what that means for your general production process. It also helps everyone else involved get used to the idea of automation.
For instance, automate the development of a single type of spring to start. Once that process has been perfected, you can move on to additional tasks.
2. Find a Consultant
Don’t go it alone. Find a consultant or third-party service that explicitly deals with automation to learn the many ins and outs of the technology. Even if you decide to implement the necessary solutions internally, the knowledge you gain will be invaluable to your efforts.
3. Train Your Workers Early
As the automation systems come online, spend time training your workers on their new roles and responsibilities. The technology may be taking over a lot of smaller tasks, but you will still need manual laborers in the trenches. What assistance will they provide to the automation tools? What jobs cannot be automated and will remain in the hands of your workers?
4. Plan for Growth
Even when starting small, you can see what processes and tasks would be an excellent fit for automation. Try to keep that in mind as the technology rolls out, and have a plan in place for future growth. What will you do after the current task is completed? Are there areas of your plant that would be better suited for automation over manual labor? How much will it cost and what’s the adoption time?
Ultimately, with these tips, you should be able to navigate the adoption of modern automation solutions more successfully.