The metal casting process is a critical step in many manufacturing lines, but it’s often inefficient. Casting workflows can be labor intensive, high precision, and dangerous, introducing the risks of time-consuming errors and delays, but they don’t have to be this way. You can boost productivity across your organization by automating metal casting.
The metal and machinery industry installed 41 thousand new robots in 2020 alone, but there’s still room to grow in many facilities. Here’s how metal casting automation can improve productivity in your workflow.
Faster Cycle Times
The most straightforward reason why automating metal casting is faster than conventional approaches is that robots can move faster than people. Training and experience can make veteran workers far quicker than other employees, but the human body still has limits.
Because the metal casting process requires moving hot metals and managing heavy loads, it can pose a safety risk to employees. Robots can work quickly and safely without risking spiling – factors that can streamline the overall process and deliver the same speed throughout the workday.
Automation can also consolidate several steps into one, further reducing cycle times. These consolidation and speed advantages have helped Lockheed Martin reduce some manufacturing times by 75% and let General Motors cut some production stages into a third of the time.
Higher Accuracy and Repeatability
Automation can also improve productivity by reducing errors. Steps like mold packing and deburring require high precision, so even small missteps can create quality issues that need fixing or rework. That can be a considerable time sink, but these challenges are less likely in an automated line that operates off of sensors and precise mechanical movement.
You can extend these benefits by applying automation to quality control processes. Machine vision systems can inspect for defects with high accuracy, ensuring fewer mistakes make it further down the production line after minimizing their likelihood in the first place.
US employers lose 11 working days per employee each year from workplace injuries and illnesses – a tragic and unfortunate statistic. Because automation can place distance between workers and the most dangerous parts of the job, it can lower that figure.
Carrying and pouring hot metal into molds is one of the riskiest parts of metal casting but one of the most easily automated. If you automate pouring while letting employees work on other, less dangerous workflows, you can virtually eliminate burn hazards.
Automation can also reduce the physical workload on employees, minimizing their chances of developing musculoskeletal disorders. These conditions may slow employees down and may cause pain and suffering. Easing physical workload through automation can keep workers productive, safe, and healthy.
Complement, not Replace
Automating metal casting can further improve productivity by giving your workers more time to focus on other tasks. Despite its reputation for taking jobs, automation, when applied properly, complements human employees rather than replacing them.
Robotic systems can handle the most repetitive or dangerous parts of metal casting, freeing workers to accomplish other value-adding work. Consequently, you can finish more tasks in less time despite keeping the same number of employees. In this way, you can virtually expand your workforce even if you face difficulty hiring new workers.
This advantage is increasingly important amid ongoing labor shortages. Experts predict U.S. manufacturers to have 2.1 million unfilled positions by 2030, but automation’s efficiency will make that shortage less impactful.
Best Practices for Automating Metal Casting
As these examples highlight, automating the metal casting process can boost productivity through several means. However, achieving these benefits requires careful planning and implementation. If you want to make the most of your automated casting systems, follow these three best practices.
Determine Needs and Goals
The first step in effective automation is determining what you need from it. Analyze your metal casting process to determine where you have the most room for improvement. This will help find the optimal solution and set relevant key performance indicators (KPIs).
The best places to apply automation depend on the specific workflow. Some facilities may find their pouring process is prone to error, making it an ideal fit for automation. If you use sand casting, which can minimize defects in molds, it may yield better results to automate grinding or quality control processes instead.
As you review your needs and set goals, be sure to include financial factors, too. Automation can be costly, so set a firm budget and determine your ideal return on investment (ROI).
Work Closely With Automation Partners
After you know your budget and where you’d like to automate your metal casting process, you can shop for available solutions. Compare multiple vendors and reach out to robotics companies to inquire about custom options, which may be more effective.
Once you’ve decided on an automation partner, work with them closely to ensure you get a system that meets your unique needs. Describe your goals and restraints in detail so you can get the most help possible.
Even after purchasing and installing a solution, it’s best to keep in contact with your automation partners. These systems will likely need adjustments over time to reach their full potential, so it’s best to keep lasting relationships with robotics experts.
Start Small and Grow Slowly
Finally, remember that automating metal casting is expensive. Automation’s efficiency gains will save money long-term, but high upfront costs slow these returns, taking 22 months to produce positive ROIs on average. Consequently, it’s better to start by automating a single process before slowly expanding your robotics investments.
Start with the most error-prone or inefficient part of your casting process. Measure relevant KPIs along the way and review the results to determine what worked well and what didn’t. These insights will help you implement more effective automation solutions in the future.
The Metal Casting Process Can Gain Much from Automation
Automation provides the efficiency and safety you need to make the most of your metal casting process. Once you know what this technology can enable and understand the best practices surrounding it, you can unlock these workflows’ full potential.
A more efficient casting process will shorten lead times and improve safety and productivity across your entire production. These substantial benefits begin with learning more about what automation has to offer.