Automation is something of an inevitability—not just in the fenestration industry, but the broader manufacturing landscape at large.

Not everyone has the budget or production numbers to justify a massive investment in a fully-automated production line by one of the major equipment OEMs, but most understand the tangible benefits automatic equipment can bring to any application. Better consistency. Improved quality. Perhaps most importantly, less labor and manpower required to carry out critical production tasks.

So, if you’re a smaller or mid-sized operation where a million-dollar investment might not make complete sense, you might wonder: Where is the best place to implement automation in your facility? And that brings us to today’s tip:

Automate where it will have the most impact.

I realize this tip may sound a bit vague. That’s because the answer to the earlier question (where to automate?) greatly depends on the specifics of your operation, your teams’ skills and your most pressing needs. And it will require you to take stock of and analyze your entire production process before making a decision.

For example, if your teams have no problems cutting glass manually while keeping up with your target production volume, it may not necessarily benefit you to automate that process. Other parts of production may represent a better opportunity. Consider spacer application for insulating glass (IG) units, which requires high levels of precision to avoid potential quality errors. I wrote last year about how poor technique in this area can have an outsized impact on your production. Precision is key here—and when I’m out in the field helping Quanex customers address quality concerns, much of the time it can be traced back to improper manual spacer application.

This problem, then, can be eliminated by letting properly calibrated robotic equipment handle the process. The higher quality and consistency you’ll be able to achieve should manifest in quick ROI. Other opportunities for application-specific automation could include glass washing, vinyl profile corner cleaning, unit handling toward the end of the line—it’s all about identifying where in your specific process represents opportunity for good results.

In any case, it’s important to remember that implementing automation also requires a shift in mindset. Any form of robotic equipment requires regular maintenance and calibration for it to operate reliably, and it’s something you’ll need to learn and make a part of your regular operations. Additionally, it’s not your grandfather’s shop floor anymore. One of the most important things you can do after implementing automation is be open to new ideas—and they might come from anyone who is a part of your production process. To get the most out of your investment, thinking differently is how you’ll get ahead.

Hector Cortez is Senior Technical Services Representative for Quanex.

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