While aerospace manufacturers have been seeking to automate their production for many years, they continue to face significant challenges in adding factory automation to their processes. One of the biggest hurdles to implementing automation comes with justifying return on investment (ROI).
Given the complexity and size of aircraft components, and limited production runs, custom automation systems can get very expensive. Additionally, early factory automation systems struggled to meet the needs of aerospace manufacturers, leading many to continue with manual processes. However, as demand for aircraft increases, manufacturers are finding it difficult to keep up and turning to automation to solve their current challenges.
The Struggle of Automating the Aerospace Industry
From large component sizes to part variation to production precision, there are many obstacles automation must overcome to be considered in aerospace manufacturing.
Robots must be able to move around large parts to perform their dedicated tasks. Additionally, precision requirements are extremely important to aircraft production. Robots must be able to consistently and accurately place parts to meet rigorous requirements. Last, automation system design needs to support a wide range of part variations to support productivity.
Thankfully, innovations in automation have helped to mitigate some of these challenges. Advanced vision and laser-based guidance systems can be utilized for greater accuracy and precision. Flexibility in robot types, including cobots, makes it easier for manufacturers to move and reprogram them to fit differing production needs.
Evaluating Your ROI
Aerospace programs entail lengthy development periods that can span up to a decade, with a lifespan of 20 to 30 years. Because of these lengthy time periods, aerospace companies must carefully consider the cost of automation ownership over the duration of a program. To evaluate the profitability of automating manufacturing processes, decision makers need to consider a range of factors.
Impact on Your Workforce
When it comes to assessing the impact of automation, it's crucial to consider your team. After all, the effects automation can have on your workers are significant.
- Reduction of manual labor— Automating repetitive, manual tasks allows you to hire the skilled labor needed to support production.
- Improved worker safety — Automation can create safer work environments for your employees, leading to increased morale. Think about production hours lost due to injury, or how much money is paid to employees as workers' compensation. Automation can improve working conditions and create a more ergonomic-friendly environment.
- Filling labor gaps — Automation can help to keep up with demand during a time of increased labor shortages.
Quality of Products
Product quality is directly correlated to the safety of millions of people every year. Here are a few ways to evaluate your ROI based off product quality:
- Reduced scrap rates due to increased accuracy and quality.
- Increased uptime due to reduction of human error.
- Reduced rework and lower cost per part.
- Improved consistency for increased first pass yield percentage.
Throughput is a way to measure how effective your manufacturing lines are. This is essential to your business because it helps you see inefficiencies and areas where you can better manage resources. Automation can improve production ROI by:
- Increasing throughput.
- Reducing downtime caused by tooling changes.
- Increasing utilization of existing equipment.
- Using SCADA control systems to increase production efficiency.
- Augmenting work instructions to increase the candidate pool.
Other Factors to Consider for ROI
Some aspects can be hard to quantify in dollars and cents but should be considered because they offer a lot of potential value.
- The time it could take to plan and integrate automation into your processes is often overlooked. Remember, automation takes time to incorporate throughout your business.
- Reducing the footprint of equipment has a huge benefit for your business as it enables you to have space for other projects.
- An ergonomic-friendly environment could save your business a significant amount of money from employee injuries or production downtime due to injuries.
There are numerous advantages to implementing automation in the aerospace industry including enhancing quality, reducing costs, improving throughput, increasing sustainability, and increasing worker safety. With advancements in technology and an ongoing expansion of the industry, there will be greater possibilities for automation to deliver a substantial return on investment. Knowing where to automate your processes is the key to a successful ROI.