Automated assembly lines: The advantages and disadvantages of robots

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This article explores some of the key benefits – but also the risks – associated with using robots in manufacturing and product assembly.

Advantage of automated assembly

Labor costs

One of the clear advantages associated with automated assembly is that it can reduce labor costs. For many assembled products, the cost of labor can be a large component of the overall costs. Automated assembly is one way of reducing these costs. 

A connected potential benefit associated with reducing required labor is that it may allow manufacturing to be conducted in a higher-wage county – potentially the same as where the product is designed or used. This may avoid political or economic risks associated with manufacturing products overseas. 

Consistency of operations

Another benefit of automated manufacturing and assembly comes from the consistency of the operations. Robots have the potential for repeating the same operation with almost no variations or mistakes. Accuracy may be higher than manual assembly, and product quality may be greater.

Limitations of automated assembly

Fixed costs associated with setting up the production line

One of the biggest drawbacks of automated assembly lines is the fixed costs associated with the operation. Depending on the nature of the production line, the cost of robots may range from tens of thousands of dollars to millions of dollars. While the costs may be recouped as savings associated with lower labor costs on large production runs, for smaller production quantities, the initial costs are likely to be prohibitive. 

Lead time to set up the operations

Another limitation to be aware of with automated assembly is the lead time associated with setting up the production line. While manual assembly can be established relatively quickly – potentially in a matter of hours – automated assembly lines may take months to set up and configure for a particular product. 

This can be an important consideration when you are looking to get the good to market quickly – if you need to establish a new automated assembly line it may significantly delay the launch of the product. 

Lack of flexibility in the assembly

A final limitation with automated assembly is the difficulty associated with making changes to the product. While it is an easy process to make changes to manual assembly lines, even small adjustments may involve significant effort with automated assembly. 

Considering situations where automated assembly is best suited

Automated assembly lines clearly have their place – but so does manual assembly. The question is not necessarily which is better than the other, but rather what is the fit between the characteristics of the products to be assembled and the best assembly approach. Situations best suited to automated assembly include:

  • Large production runs, to allow fixed costs to be recouped.
  • Standard products that are unlikely to change frequently.
  • No specific rush to establish the assembly process very quickly.