Automation and AI are changing the way we approach manufacturing, streamlining processes and allowing for even greater precision and efficiency. Our American Manufacturing factories are considered “smart factories,” which means our systems and machines are all digitally connected, driving greater automation and flexibility. Let’s take a look at some key ways that technology has driven the evolution of smart factories.

Then and Now: From Old Presses to Computer Automation

Decades ago, manufacturing had its limits. Machines didn’t have internal computer systems, and relied heavily on operators to set the pace. But today, the entire operation can be programmed and run digitally. The machine can take that programming and just do what it’s supposed to do — without an operator running the machine.

Here are some examples of how we incorporate manufacturing automation every day at American Manufacturing:

Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs)

AGVs are programmed to drive themselves around a shop or warehouse. These can be tuggers or forklifts or other types of manufacturing vehicles. And their main benefit is their driver-less functionality: these vehicles can run without a driver, moving around a space to pick up and move materials as needed. These may be less common in smart factories today due to the labor involved in setting them up and adapting the workspace to use them safely. But we believe AI will help make AGVs more practical in the near future.

Tube Lasers

Tube lasers used to be much more difficult to find. But you’ll see them in most smart factories! The precision of tube lasers allows for much more variety in the angles and shapes of a cut. They also speed up the process significantly compared to production saw cutting, as they can run processes without an operator and cut holes of much smaller diameter without breaking the steel.

How Smart Factories Enhance Precision and Efficiency

Smart factories are vastly more efficient and churn out higher-quality products compared to factories of the past, thanks to manufacturing automation. As mentioned earlier, efficiency in manufacturing used to depend almost entirely on machine operators—how fast they could go, how cleanly they could make cuts, and so on. The physical limitations of human operators made it impossible to get the speed and precision we can achieve today with automated machines that don’t tire or rely on anything else to do the job.

A prime example of this is the Trumpf Liftmaster Compact. Before, sheeting would rely on an operator who could only load and unload around 70 sheets in a day. The Liftmaster automated the loading and unloading process, taking it off the operators’ plate and speeding up the daily quota to 300! And that leads to greater efficiency and better delivery times for our customers.

When it comes to precision, the difference between old robotic welding cells and the laser cells we use today is astronomical. With robotic welding cells, if a part was just 1/16th of an inch over or under where it should be, the robot wouldn’t know and would miss the weld every time. But with technology today, welding machinery can adapt automatically for a consistently precise weld. That’s a win-win for our team and our customers.

What’s Next for Smart Factories?

One of the biggest challenges to making factories “smart” is the IT risks involved when everything is connected digitally. These connections put automated machines on the internet, making them a possible route for hackers to target factory systems. Security is essential to maintaining the integrity of manufacturing operations, so IT is a big name in the conversation surrounding smart factories.

Aside from these technical security needs, automation and AI technologies are continuing to advance what we can do in manufacturing. We’re particularly excited about the Trumpf STOPA system for large-scale automated storage. This system allows us to move pallets of materials to any machine quickly and efficiently as they go through the manufacturing process, speeding up the time between cutting, welding, and assembly.

Curious to learn more about our services and how our “smart factory” setup can benefit your business? Contact us here!