Manufacturers explore Automation and Robotics technology for a number of reasons; commercial advantage, worker demographics, competition from abroad or even FOMO. Automation and Robotics are making massive technological leaps quickly, but it’s often challenging for manufacturers to take advantage of the latest and greatest, because their eye is focussed on today’s production requirement. We’ve established over the past 5 years that a way to get ahead of the next trend in your business is to innovate through industrial prototyping.
One of the primary benefits of prototyping is to ensure that all your system requirements or product specifications are de-risked early without launching yourself deeper into a project than you should. Prototyping is also a way to quickly think outside the box to unlock and test innovative ideas quickly and cost-effectively, without disrupting today’s production.
First, What is Industrial Prototyping?
Industrial prototyping is the process of creating preliminary models before moving the project or product to a larger scale. Prototyping has been a common process in product development and now advances in simulation in Robotics and Automation systems are making it easier to do in the manufacturing space.
We’re going to focus primarily on industrial prototyping from a manufacturing point of view but the content in this article can be applied to almost any discipline or project.
How Enginuity Starts the Industrial Prototype Process
With many projects, one of our first steps is to go through a discovery process. This process is unique to Enginuity and helps us understand where a client is at in their journey and potential gaps that might exist. You can learn more about this process here.
When we work with a manufacturing challenge we apply this discovery exercise to a part of, or the entire manufacturing process. Understanding and unlocking production nuances, choke-points and potential areas for improvement.
The discovery process is a very important step towards creating an effective prototype for our clients. Once we have an industrial prototype that represents the desired outcome we can start iterating and working towards integration of the prototype design into product ready components. This is particularly important in regulated sectors like food processing and aerospace component production.
Coming Up with Continued Innovation
One of the aspects of our work that sets us apart from many others is our constant commitment to innovation. For manufacturers continuous innovation can be challenging to maintain, especially in areas where technology moves slower. We stay on top of innovation by maintaining relationships with suppliers like Omron and Keyence, attending internationally renowned technology tradeshows, and by regularly exercising our innovation muscles for any client that could benefit from it.
By combining our efforts to continuously improve our capabilities and the robust industrial prototyping exercises we do, we can truly commit to providing leading edge solutions for our clients.
Industrial prototyping at work
We recently produced a case study surrounding our manufacturing work with IMO Foods in Yarmouth, NS, you can read more about our work here. This client was looking to improve their manufacturing process for many reasons including an aging labour force, a need to improve throughput and a huge market opportunity for low cost, high nutritional value foods.
Our team met with the owner a number of times to get to know the client, who they serve, go through the discovery process and ultimately provide them with an industrial prototype that outlined the solutions to the problems they were facing. Once the prototype was tested at our facility we set about designing the production system for transfer to the facility.
Pitching the prototype
We met with Phil Leblanc, the owner of IMO Foods to go over the prototype we came up with at the local pub in Yarmouth and had an extraordinary meeting (it had nothing to do with the local brew!).
The manufacturing process at IMO is dealt with from start to finish in their plant so we felt we had as much flexibility as we wanted to establish a path to the best solution and since our approach involved some powerful robotics and automation, we were able to create a prototype that was modular in design.
When we sat down with Phil with the prototype production layout on the table, we were able to start moving elements of the manufacturing prototype around to unlock some drastic improvements – somewhere along the lines of a 50% increase in production, reduced costs and labour, all with an ROI of only 2 years. Again, you can read more about all this at the case study.
The Innovation in the Industrial Prototyping Process.
The true innovation for the client didn’t come from simply applying the newest tech, anyone can do that. The innovation that Enginuity is known for shone through once we started thinking differently about the project (by first starting with our discovery process) and blew up the manufacturing status quo that is so easy for manufacturing companies to slide into, being immersed in their own manufacturing process each day. The result was a re-working of existing staff positions, different workflow of product through the plant and a much closer data-driven connection between production and sales.