Questions with John Lucier

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Methods Machine Tools’ automation manager discusses automation.

June 1, 2020

1) What does aerospace automation look like today?

One of the biggest challenges for integrating aerospace automation is small lot production sizes. Small lots and complex parts makes automation seem costly for minimal savings. However, there is a massive opportunity for manufacturers to begin integrating automation into their shops and start solving challenges – the lack of qualified engineers, high production costs, and limited productivity.

Methods Automation has been developing custom solutions to such challenges and has recently launched a standard automation solution in the RoboDrill Plus K. The small-footprint, built-on automation solution adds up to 68 tools and 60 pallets to any RoboDrill, allowing unattended milling of complex parts.

2) What is the best way to incorporate automation in aerospace?

While there are several ways that a shop can begin to incorporate automation into their shop floor, the best way is to start by building on pre-existing infrastructure. Upgrading 3- or 4-axis machines with full 5-axis capabilities and seeing where robotics can be integrated into the current machine lineup is the quickest way to take advantage of limited floor space.

3) What are the biggest benefits automation adds to your shop floor?

Increased productivity. By adding automation to your floor, you are able to decrease the number of steps and human intervention in any machining process which will save you time on setup and machining. Moving into lights-out manufacturing allows shops to run parts on all three shifts without incurring additional labor costs.

4) How does automation address the shortage of qualified engineers in the workforce?

Automation not only limits human intervention in the machining process with unattended and lights-out manufacturing, which lowers labor costs, it’s reshaping career trajectories. As more jobs open in automation and robotics, the industry can have natural workforce growth.

Training/education is a major focus of Methods. With every solution that goes out, we also spend time training our customers engineers on-site and at one of our eight technical centers across the U.S. We are also continually hosting educational tours where we expose educators and students to the advanced work being done in manufacturing today and show how you can make a career of it.

5) What is the future of aerospace automation?

Successful shops are already implementing automation. As competition increases, we will see more automation – specifically, more robotics on shop floors that will be able to handle the low volume, complex, close-tolerance parts that makes the aerospace industry unique.

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