Composites manufacturers: are you making the best of your brownfield situation?

It must be frustrating: having decades of experience and knowledge producing composites parts with existing production lines, but watching a newcomer walk away with the order because they can produce faster and cheaper with their brand new production line. You know automation is the way to go, but investment costs are putting you off. How to fight this ramp-up war and win this battle?

Companies in a brownfield situation are in dire need of a reorganisation to adopt to new demands, as well as people that can accommodate this transition. But considering the multitude of the task, it’s not something you do overnight. Companies must attract people with new skillsets and change organisational structures. But with the ongoing shortage of high-tech skilled workers – things just got a whole lot more complicated.

It’s a slow process, so start now

Over the past decade manufacturers have been focusing on short term solutions: hiring additional workers, cutting cost, outsourcing production to low-cost countries or by making small investments to upgrade their current equipment. It is a nice, continuous and predictable solution. However: it is no longer sustainable. With labour becoming less available, constraints in areal spaces and small investments no longer do the trick, a counter reaction is evident and eminent. If not by you, the new kids will take over. Just think of the traditionalist German car industry with all the successful electric car newcomers.

I do understand the struggles most companies are facing, and they should not be taken lightly. Without the certainty of a short-term ROI or fixed contracts, it’s fairly impossible to get the business case to immediately go for a fully automated and efficient production line. Your space is limited and you need to continue current orders, hence making it challenging to implement anything new, let alone a full line. Further establishing a continuous production with a newly built line takes settling time and accommodation, both of which you simply don’t have. All good reasons not to start, right?

Wrong. It’s time to rip off the Band-Aid!

Whether you like it or not: production lines must modernise. As a brownfield manufacturer you must catch up or risk being left behind. The time has come to rip off the Band-Aid and include an automation cell into your production environment, independent of its size.

How to go about? First off, stop waiting for new technology to come in short notice from your R&D centre. Instead, put a new ‘plug and play’ automation cell into your production facilities and have it learn on the job. This way you can cope and work with automation and be better prepared for your next automation steps. Call it a stepping stone approach where you will find yourself much better positioned to predict your ROI and secure future orders based on your envisioned automation skills. By dedicating space to automation one can reduce actual space and as you go, you build your high-tech skilled workforce.

See it with your own eyes

At the Composites Europe 2018 in Stuttgart, Airborne (together with Gunnar and Schmalz) showcased it’s smart automated kitting solution. That’s right! We flew in our robotic solution so you could witness how a ’plug and play’ automation cell looks and works: from cutting the material, to ply picking and sorting them into a buffer station – and all in the right order. Like to more about our automated composites manufacturing solutions? Feel free to contact Airborne.

About the author
Picture of Jens de Kanter

Jens de Kanter

Technical Director Automation

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