One of the areas often overlooked when planning for automation is the way automation changes the floor space inside a metal fabrication company. It’s not exactly an issue of more space vs. less space, it’s a different way to use the same space. For example, you might have to think in a “cell” fashion rather than in a linear fashion, where next steps succeed each other literally down the line.
Here are some of the areas to consider when planning for automation, and the ways it can potentially change and make use of your space:
- Efficient Space Utilization: Automated equipment can have a more compact and efficient design compared to traditional machinery. This can lead to better utilization of space, allowing more operations to be conducted in the same area. For example, automated storage and retrieval systems can utilize vertical space more effectively than manual storage. This three-dimensional thinking is still somewhat new in our business.
- Reconfiguration of Layout: Automation may require a reconfiguration of the shop floor layout. Machines might need to be arranged differently to optimize workflow and accommodate automated systems. This might involve centralizing certain operations or creating specific areas for automated processes.
- Reduction in Storage Space: Automation can lead to a reduction in the amount of space needed for storage. Automated systems often include just-in-time manufacturing processes, which minimize the need for storing large amounts of inventory on the shop floor.
- Increased Safety Zones: Automated machinery might require additional safety measures, such as barriers or designated safety zones, which could take up additional floor space. This is necessary to ensure the safety of workers operating near automated equipment.
- Decreased People Zones. Because of the additional cages and safety areas, “people” zones will shrink, and that must be considered when planning traffic through a shop. This is particularly true when considering the lanes for bringing 10 x 5 sheets of steel through the plant.
- Room for Expansion: With automation, some processes become more efficient, potentially freeing up space that was previously used for less efficient processes. This space can be repurposed for new machines, expansion of existing operations, or for processes that are still manual.
- Integration Space: If automation involves the integration of different machines and systems (such as conveyors linking different production stages), additional space might be needed to accommodate these integrations.
- Space for Control and Monitoring: Automated systems often require spaces for control units, computers, and monitoring equipment. This might mean setting aside areas for control rooms or stations.
- Potential for Scalability: Automated systems are often more scalable than manual operations. As the business grows, it might be easier to add new automated units or scale existing ones within the same space, rather than having to expand the physical footprint of the shop.
In summary, automation in metal fabricating can lead to more efficient use of space, require reconfiguration of the shop floor, increase safety zones, and potentially change storage and control needs. The overall impact on floor space can vary depending on the specific type of automation implemented and the existing layout and processes of the shop.