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Automation Implementation Comes with Benefits and Difficulties, Report Says

Automation remains a priority for orthopedic manufacturers.

One example of a company that is focused on automation is Schütte, a builder of CNC multi-spindle and grinding machines for both the OEM and supplier markets. Matt Morgan, Regional Sales Manager, said that the company has made several advances, “from small robotic cells to a modular automation cell utilizing RFID, vision and robotic technology that accommodates several Schütte WU335 grinders at once for high-volume femoral knee production.”

“In the next five years, the sky will be the limit with automation,” Morgan explained. “With automation, there is a less of a chance for error. With vision systems, RFID tags, etc. you can load a pallet of femoral knees, each part has a unique ID on it and a camera identifies each part by size. [The automation program] makes sure that the correct fixture is picked up, double checked by the RFID tag, then loaded in and pulled up on the grinding machine to run that particular part. It positions the correct grinding wheels, determines how many cycles will be run and so forth. That’s the direction it’s going in—efficiency and lights-out operation. “At some point, we’ll be able to load a pallet of implants that come out packaged, labeled and ready to ship to the final customer.”

Morgan pointed to return on investment as a primary reason more companies may look to automation.

“ROI is high,” he said. “If you don’t need someone standing there, you don’t have to pay them. People are expensive. It’s all about efficiency and lower costs. [Production] volume is higher as well. Robots don’t take breaks.”

Despite the benefits Morgan described, many companies have been slow to implement automation. Why? Because in numerous cases, technology is accelerating at a pace faster than the pace of people development, according to Industry Pulse: 2018 Manufacturing Workforce Report.

The report is compiled by Tooling U-SME, a provider of manufacturing training solutions. It posits that innovation through the integration and adoption of advanced technologies is at risk due to a lack of skilled workers to implement concepts like automation.

In the report, Tooling U-SME identifies the most pressing training and development pain points that manufacturers encounter today, and the challenges they will face in the next three years. Respondents represented a wide range of industries; approximately 10% operate in the medical device industry. Approximately 40% of individual respondents are in human resources and talent/training development and 34% are in leadership and management positions.

Tooling U-SME reports that 78% of the companies that participated in the report are challenged to implement automation. On a larger scale, the report posits that the top business challenges for manufacturers are finding, upskilling and onboarding talent.

“The manufacturing industry is changing rapidly, with advanced technologies providing amazing opportunities for increased efficiency, improved quality, shorter cycle times, optimized energy, greater innovation and reduced costs,” the report states.