Factory Automation

How Lean Automation Contributes to a Lean Production Process

When we picture automation, it’s often big multi-station systems with feeders, conveyors, and testing all running with little to no manual intervention. Those systems have been maximizing efficiency in industries like automotive for decades. However, high-volume, low-mix automation solutions are not the only option. 

With the advent of technology like collaborative robotics, automation can be implemented as free-standing stations using a lean approach. High-mix, low-volume assembly operations can take advantage of properly designed lean stations to achieve lean manufacturing objectives including reduced waste and improved quality.

Lean automation can offer multiple benefits:

  • Fast implementation
  • Low capital expenditure
  • Reduced waste
  • Quick ramp up
  • Minimal maintenance

Have a lean system up and running quickly

How quickly depends on the specific implementation. First, we need to look at your overall process to find the best opportunity to implement a lean automation system.  We’ll use lean principles to evaluate your process by asking several questions:

  • Does every step add value?
  • Can any steps be removed?
  • Which steps can be improved?
  • Where can waste be reduced?
  • How can inefficiencies be eliminated?

When we’re looking at adding free-standing robots to a manual process, we’ll likely be considering force-limited collaborative robots that move slower than the types of robots used in automotive assembly. The best station for a collaborative robot isn’t necessarily a process that needs to be done quickly.

High-potential opportunities to implement a collaborative robot include processes that are:

  • Repetitive
  • Precise
  • Dangerous

Robot welding systems are a common independent-station application. Note that even though a collaborative-type robot can be used for a dangerous operation like welding, additional appropriate safety guarding must be designed into the system.

Minimize costs with a lean automation system

An experienced robot systems integrator knows how to right-size robots to suit the application. That means you won’t pay extra for a heavy-duty robot to do a task that a lighter robot could accomplish. 

In addition to the robot itself, tooling is another important cost consideration. By choosing a unit that can use existing off-the-shelf components, tooling costs are minimized. 

When using a robot for an assembly operation, parts presentation must be considered. If a complex feeding mechanism will be required, that particular process or end-of-arm tooling may not be ideal.

We’ll look at processes that can use robotic automation with minimal customization and no special end-of-arm tooling or complex parts presentation required. Those constraints will help speed implementation and minimize costs.

Finding ways to use one robot for more than one station is an excellent way to get the most out of an investment in automation. A robot that can easily change end-of-arm tooling can be used for multiple tasks, as long as other requirements such as payload are met. 

Using one robot for more than one task isn’t an approach we would recommend for a high-volume operation. But, for a low-volume operation, moving one unit between two stations is often cost effective. This strategy can even be implemented in phases, with the robot first used in one station as proof of concept.

Improve quality to reduce waste

In addition to the precision inherent in robotic systems, new vision capabilities are making robots an excellent choice to increase quality levels. By increasing the percentage of in-process and finished items that pass quality iinspections, waste can be significantly reduced.

Ramp up right away

With a lean automation system that’s not heavily customized, there is less to test and adjust at both the factory acceptance and site acceptance steps. Training is also simplified. The collaborative robots that are typically used in a lean automation setup are often designed with an easy-to-use interface that requires minimal training. 

Simplify maintenance with a lean design

By implementing a robotic system that uses off-the-shelf components instead of customized tooling, replacement parts are typically readily available. And, specific expertise for the custom machine isn’t necessary to perform standard repairs. Standard repairs should be able to be done by any technician qualified to repair robots from that manufacturer.

Right-sizing automation is critical

A robotic systems integrator with experience implementing lean systems can ensure that the robots specified will provide as many benefits as possible, including low initial investment, minimal customization, fast implementation, and simplified maintenance.

Want to learn more about using a lean automation system for a specific production process? Contact us at Ehrhardt Engineered Systems at: 877-386-7856 or email us at

Factory Automation

How to Choose an Industrial Robot for Small Part Assembly

Choosing an Industrial Robot Using a Decision Matrix

When you start investigating available industrial robots at trade shows or through industry news, you’ll run across a handful of names that come up repeatedly. All of the top robot manufacturers have a proven track record, an impressive offering, and continue to innovate. So how do you choose one from the other?

List the factors that are most important for your operation and rank those factors with relative importance. You can then use this ranking to compare different models from different manufacturers in a decision matrix.

A decision matrix helps narrow down the choices of industrial robots for small part assembly

Before even considering cost, use criteria that narrow down the contenders based on your needs. Use the answers to the questions below to rank the importance of familiarity, local service and support, specialization, collaboration, speed, and mobility on your decision matrix.

Is your team familiar with any industrial robots?

If you’re already using one type of robot in your facility, then some of your team has training using that robot, and you’re already carrying spare parts from that manufacturer. Sticking with the same manufacturer can speed your implementation and streamline your spare parts inventory as long as that manufacturer offers the type of robot you need.

How much training, service, and support do you require?

If your team will require extensive training and support, then a manufacturer that provides service and support locally should be an important factor in your selection process.

Does your automation require a specialized ability?

The best robot for you will largely be determined by what you need it to do. Common tasks done by robotic automation include welding, assembly, picking/placing, machine tending, and palletizing.

In addition to the task, you can also narrow your specifications by identifying the payload, reach, footprint, and any special tooling you require.

The available models for each task and specification list will vary according to the manufacturer. The more specialized your requirements are, the fewer choices you’ll have.

Can the robot be safely isolated or does it need to work in collaboration with people?

If you know that you need a robot that can be used safely in proximity to humans, then you need a collaborative robot. You may still need additional safety equipment in addition to the built-in features of the collaborative robot, but knowing that you should
look at collaborative robots will help focus your decision matrix.

Collaborative robots are not good options for high-speed operations due to their safe speed restrictions. If you need an operation done at high speed, you’ll likely not be considering collaborative options.

Will the robot be fixed in place, or does it need mobility?

Depending on your specifications, you may not have a choice for this question. Large, heavy robots need to be fixed to be safe. However, lighter collaborative robots are often mobile and can even do double-duty, moving from one station to another.

How do cost and availability rank?

Of course, cost and availability will play into your decision-making process. However, they aren’t the first questions to ask, and they shouldn’t be the determining factors. A cheap robot delivered tomorrow is not the right choice if it won’t do what you need, it’s
too slow, and you can’t get service or parts for it.

Need help deciding which industrial robot is best to automate your small part assembly process?

Contact us at Ehrhardt Engineered Systems at:

877-386-7856 or email us