A feasibility study of automation in manufacturing processes among scaffold manufacturers
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This study addresses the implementation of semi-automated and automated manufacturing processes among scaffold manufacturers and the possible benefits associated with them. Scaffolding has become increasingly more popular over the last couple of years and manufacturers within the South African manufacturing market simply cannot keep up with the current demand for scaffold. Therefore, customers must wait longer for their scaffolding to be delivered or they rely on more conventional methods such as building trestles and ladders to perform their jobs, which is a major safety hazard. Due to the always increasing health and safety standards as well as the focus of the mining charter on health and safety it has become inevitable for scaffold manufacturers to expand and/or streamline their operations in order to serve the current demand in the industry. This study aims to compare the throughput as well as the cost effectiveness of both the traditional and automated manufacturing techniques and to determine whether it is feasible to implement semi-automated and/or automated manufacturing processes. A cycle time study was conducted on both the traditional manufacturing techniques as well as the semi-automated and automated methods. The welders and machine operators were tested in the practical environment. The first test was done in South Africa, where we tested the normal traditional methods of manufacturing, and the second test on the semi-automated and automated methods, was conducted in China and South Africa. With skilled labour and personnel being skilled in the art of welding and machining becoming scarcer by the day, it has become increasingly difficult for scaffold manufacturers to find quality welders and machine operators. A total of 40 different cycle times were performed on the traditional manufacturing process of a ledger 2 500, and a total number of 20 cycle times were performed on the traditional manufacturing of a hook-on board 2 500. On the semi-automation process to manufacture a ledger 2 500, there were 20 cycle time studies making use of video recordings and manual visualisation, and on the automated roll forming the operation, which is suggested to replace the traditional hook-on board manufacturing techniques, we relied on studies conducted by the machine manufacturer, visualisation and making use of video recordings. The current remuneration rates as set forth by the MEIBC and the bargaining council were used as the remuneration rate per hour when the cost was calculated. During this study, it was proved that the factory throughput will indeed increase when you introduce semi-automated and automated manufacturing processes. The introduction of semi-automated and automated manufacturing methods also increased profitability, and freed up valuable skilled workers who can be utilised in other segments of the business. The limitations of this study are that the numerical tests and the cycle times were only conducted at one scaffold manufacturing plant. Scaffold manufacturing plants tend to keep their manufacturing techniques that are unique to them to themselves and often do not share them with the market. This study can be replicated with regard to the whole scaffold industry, which could be beneficial for the scaffold industry as a whole.