Robotics Are Coming To North American Flat Glass Facilities
Robotics are entering the North American glass market at a faster rate than ever, driven by improvements in labor savings, quality, and productivity.
In fact, Glass on Web reports that 79 percent of top business leaders in the U.S. say they plan to incorporate robotics in their processes by 2020.
This topic was a major theme at 2018 GlassBuild America held in September in Las Vegas. Attendees entered the exhibition floor greeted by a trio of large robots tasked to work on an insulating glass production line. Throughout the three-day event, attendees had opportunities to view robots performing a wide variety of tasks related to glass production, including gas filling, handling oversized glass, and sealing IG units.
While robotics are common in factories located throughout Europe, within the past five years North American facilities started embracing the robotics innovation. The primary rationale for not adopting robotics until now was the cost related to retrofitting factories. However, these costs have steadily dropped over the last five years. So as costs drop, companies are willing to introduce robotics for in-line processes, such as sealing, with analysts saying that more sophisticated tasks are possible in coming years.
Factors driving the use of robotics in the North American market, include labor savings, quality, and productivity.
The first driver for the use of robotics in the North American market is labor. Companies see significant labor savings on the factory floor for two main reasons: heavy equipment can be unmanned, which results in safety claims being lower thus increasing savings.
A second driver is quality. Until now, robots were not capable of producing quality workmanship that matched human output. However, advances in robotics now make quality workmanship possible. For example, smaller robots can perform specific fabrication tasks with consistency, which influences productivity, the third driver. Robots now can work at a faster clip than humans, which according to Glass Magazine in October, means that productivity continues to improve on a yearly basis.
Companies considering robotic automation need to carefully assess which parts of their operation make sense to retrofit for robotics. A robot might not make sense for small, critical tasks; however, other tasks that require prolonged movement may be better handled by robots. As factories become “smarter,” line operators, for example, will have opportunities to transition to positions, such as quality control.
In speaking with Window & Door magazine in 2017, A+W CEO Peter Dixen said that the “window factory of tomorrow will self-organize its ordering, production and delivery processes, and optimize continuously with each step. This includes production-related dynamic cost calculations, autonomous production planning, predictive maintenance, and dynamic production. It will integrate internal communications as well as automating real-time information exchanges with partners, suppliers, and customers.”