What is end-of-line automation?

June 25, 2024
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What is end-of-line automation?

End-of-line automation means using automated technology to handle tasks at the end of a manufacturing production line. 

Important components of end-of-line automation systems

Some of the key components in these systems include:

  • Robot arms. They pick up parts and move them around while conveyors transport items between workstations. These provide the muscle for end-of-line automation.
  • Cameras and sensors detect the position, orientation, and details of parts to properly grab, move, and assemble them. Vision systems are the eyes of end-of-line automation.
  • Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) and industrial PCs. These are the “thinking” parts. They control the equipment, run the automation software and coordinate all the moving parts.
  • Barcode scanners. They tag parts and products to determine the proper assembly or packaging required. Also, they provide critical tracking data to keep everything organized.
  • Label printers. These automatically print and apply labels to finished goods before they are shipped out. This helps to identify products for inventory and distribution easily.

Common applications of end-of-line automation

Automation is commonly used for repetitive end-of-line jobs. 

Let’s take a look at the most common examples: 

Packaging & palletizing at the end of conveyor systems

  • Wrapping, bagging, or boxing products
  • Labeling and sorting items
  • Palletizing grouped packages for shipping

Quality control

  • Scanning products for flaws through high-tech sensors and vision systems
  • Testing items to make sure they’re up to specifications
  • Rejecting or rerouting non-conforming products

Data collection

  • Scanning barcodes or RFID tags to track inventory
  • Recording production numbers, serial numbers, and product info
  • Transferring data to business systems for monitoring and analysis
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Benefits of end-of-line automation

There’s a lot to love about end-of-line automation: 

Massive productivity increases. End-of-line automation can significantly boost your productivity. Automated systems run day-in-day-out with near-zero stoppages (except for maintenance), increasing your output. They can also perform repetitive tasks much faster and at higher volumes than people. 

An increase in high-quality, uniform results. Automated systems perform each step in the exact same way every time, reducing defects and errors. Automated inspection systems, in particular, excel at detecting flaws and imperfections — only flawless products make it through inspections. 

Cost-cutting galore. Although automation systems do mean an initial investment, they can lower costs in the long run. They minimize waste by reducing overages, rejects, and rework. They also decrease labor costs by reducing the number of workers needed for repetitive, manual tasks. 

Automation means safety. End-of-line automation improves workplace safety by reducing injuries related to repetitive tasks, heavy lifting, and other physical demands. It also minimizes human exposure to hazardous materials and environments. 

They collect data you can use. Many end-of-line automation systems come with data collection and analytics capabilities: They can capture data on key performance indicators like throughput, downtime, waste, and quality. This data provides insights into your operations and helps optimize your processes. High-end systems come with live dashboards and reports to monitor your metrics in real time.

Challenges and considerations in end-of-line automation

If end-of-line automation looks perfect, it isn’t. 

There are some challenges to keep in mind before you take the leap:

  • The upfront costs. The equipment, software, and integration required to automate your production line can be quite pricey. So, be ready to pay for high-tech robotics, advanced sensors, and the expertise to program and maintain these systems. 
  • Implementing end of line automation means making major changes to your production processes. This type of transformation will require buy-in from employees at all levels of the organization. It’s important to communicate the reasons for and benefits of automation to help allay any concerns about job security or having to learn new skills. You’ll also need to retrain staff to properly operate and maintain the new automated systems. 
  • Automating an entire production line is not an easy task and requires specialized knowledge and skills. You’ll need experts in robotics, programming, and system integration to design, install, and optimize your end-of-line automation solution.

    Maintaining these complex systems also demands a high level of technical proficiency. You may need to hire extra engineering staff — unless you choose to go with no-code or more modern automation solutions. 
  • Automated systems can be difficult to adjust. If you need to accommodate changes to your product designs or production volumes, it may require costly and time-consuming reprogramming and reconfiguration of equipment.

    End-of-line automation also typically depends on a fixed layout of workstations and conveyors, limiting your ability to make quick changes to your facility layout.

Summing up

That was a quick rundown of end-of-line automation — what it is, what it does, and the key things to think about if you're considering it for your production line. 

Yes, it can deliver major efficiency gains, but you’ll need to approach implementation carefully and strategically before you take the leap.

Next steps

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