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Repetitive Tasks: The Biggest Time-Waster in Manufacturing?

May 13, 2024
Don’t let these pervasive-yet-correctible inefficiencies derail your competitiveness.

Efficiency is the key to staying competitive in our fast-paced manufacturing landscape. One of the most significant obstacles standing in the way of said efficiency is repetitive tasks. In several industries, these tasks can become major time-wasters, leading to decreased productivity and increased costs. In manufacturing—where mass production is common—their impact on time management can be particularly pronounced and significantly eat away at the bottom line. 

Below, we’ll delve into the six ways repetitive tasks waste time in manufacturing and explore strategies to address this challenge. 

  1. Manual data entry. Manual data entry is known to be error-prone and time-consuming. In manufacturing, relying on manual data entry can lead to inaccuracies in inventory management, production planning and quality control. 
  2. Inventory management. Inventory management often involves repetitive tasks such as stock counting, replenishment and tracking. These manual processes can lead to inefficiencies, including stockouts, overstocking and inaccuracies in inventory records. Inventory shrinkage cost retailers approximately $61.7 billion in 2019, with manual errors being a significant contributing factor. 
  3. Quality control inspections. Manual quality control inspections are time-consuming and prone to errors. Relying solely on manual processes for quality control can lead to increased costs. Additionally, repetitive tasks such as visual inspections can cause worker fatigue, resulting in decreased accuracy over time. 
  4. Production line setups. Frequent production line setups necessitate repetitive adjustments and reconfigurations, which can lead to downtime and decreased productivity. Inefficient changeover processes contribute to production losses, impacting overall operational efficiency and profitability. 
  5. Maintenance checks. Routine maintenance checks involve repetitive tasks such as equipment inspections and lubrication. Manual maintenance processes can result in extended downtime and heightened risks of equipment failure. Unplanned downtime—as a consequence of inefficient maintenance practices—can incur significant financial losses for manufacturers. 
  6. Order processing. Manual order processing encompasses repetitive tasks such as order entry, verification and fulfillment. Relying on manual processes for order processing can lead to errors and delays in order fulfillment, ultimately resulting in customer dissatisfaction. The margin for error in manual order processing (picking) can be substantial, with error rates as high as 1-3%, according to research. 

Strategies to Enhance Efficiency in Manufacturing 

To address the challenges posed by repetitive tasks, here are five strategies: 

Invest in Innovative and Cutting-edge Manufacturing Processes 

Investing in innovative technologies such as additive manufacturing, advanced robotics and 3D printing offers manufacturers a pathway to streamline production processes and significantly reduce the need for repetitive tasks. For instance, additive manufacturing enables the creation of complex parts in a single process, eliminating the need for assembly of multiple components.  

READ MORE: A Roundup of Manufacturing Technologies

There is also a growing importance of robotics across the sector. Advanced robotics can handle responsibilities ranging from material handling to intricate assembly operations with precision and speed. Additionally, 3D printing allows for rapid prototyping and customization, reducing the time and effort spent on repetitive tasks associated with traditional manufacturing methods. By embracing these cutting-edge technologies, manufacturers could optimize their workflows, enhance product quality and ultimately improve overall efficiency. 

Automate Various Functions to Eliminate Manual Processes 

Automation technologies such as robotic process automation (RPA) and industrial automation systems offer a means to automate repetitive tasks across various operational areas. For instance, RPA can be deployed to automate data entry duties, delivering accuracy and efficiency while minimizing the potential for human error.  

Industrial automation systems can automate processes such as inventory management, where repetitive tasks such as stock counting and replenishment are traditionally labor-intensive and prone to inaccuracies. By implementing automation solutions, manufacturers could streamline their operations, reduce reliance on manual processes and empower employees to focus on more strategic and value-added activities, thereby driving productivity and competitiveness. 

Utilize Collaborative Robots (Cobots)

Collaborative robots (cobots) represent a transformative tool in the manufacturing landscape, enabling human-robot collaboration to optimize task execution. Cobots are specifically designed to work alongside human workers in shared workspaces, assisting them in performing repetitive tasks such as inspection, picking and assembly.  

READ MORE: Cobot-Driven Manufacturing: How UR Approaches Palletizing and Welding Applications

With their intuitive interfaces and flexible programming options, cobots can be quickly deployed to handle a wide range of repetitive tasks without the need for extensive reprogramming or specialized training. Furthermore, cobots are inherently safe, featuring built-in sensors and collision detection capabilities that help ensure the well-being of human operators. By leveraging cobots, manufacturers could enhance operational efficiency, improve product quality, and create a safer and more collaborative work environment. 

Upgrade Manufacturing Systems with AI and Machine Learning

AI and machine learning technologies offer manufacturers a powerful means to optimize their systems and processes by leveraging data-driven insights. By analyzing vast amounts of data generated during production, AI algorithms can identify inefficiencies, predict maintenance needs and optimize resource allocation in real time. Machine learning models can continually refine themselves based on feedback from the production environment, enabling manufacturers to achieve higher levels of accuracy and efficiency over time.  

Additionally, AI-powered predictive analytics can forecast demand patterns and supply chain disruptions, enabling proactive decision-making and risk mitigation. By integrating AI and machine learning into their systems, manufacturers could reduce the reliance on repetitive tasks, drive continuous improvement, and ultimately enhance productivity and competitiveness.  

Employ Drone Technology for Recurring Tasks 

Drones offer manufacturers a versatile and efficient solution for performing recurring tasks such as physical inspection of equipment, facilities and inventory. Equipped with high-resolution cameras and sensors, drones can autonomously navigate complex environments and capture detailed imagery for inspection purposes. By deploying drones for routine inspections, manufacturers can significantly reduce the time and resources required compared to traditional manual methods. Moreover, drones can access hard-to-reach or hazardous areas without putting human operators at risk, enhancing workplace safety.

READ MORE: Pushing the Limits of Drone Capabilities

With advancements in drone technology, such as longer flight times and improved data analytics capabilities, manufacturers can gain valuable insights into their operations, identify potential issues early and take proactive measures to maintain optimal performance. By embracing drone technology for recurring tasks, they could improve efficiency, reduce downtime, and maintain the reliability and integrity of their assets. 

Overcoming the Repetitive Task Conundrum 

With so much research on the subject, it’s easy to see that repetitive tasks pose significant challenges to efficiency and productivity in manufacturing. By investing in innovative technologies and leveraging the latest advancements, manufacturers could mitigate the impact of repetitive tasks and achieve higher levels of operational excellence. 

Would you like to learn more? Check out the accompanying resource for further information on reducing repetitive tasks in manufacturing. 

Julie Workman is marketing manager for Acieta, which specializes in industrial robotics automation. 

Resources

  1. Repetitive Tasks—The Biggest Time-Waster in Manufacturing? 
  2. 7 Ways Manual Repetitive Tasks Are Eating Into Your Budget

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