Go and see "lean automation" at Thermo King.
Thermo King is a run-of-the-mill assembly line operation with volumes that are about 25 percent of typical automation plants, making it difficult to justify big spending on automation. To weld and coat steel frames, the company deploys a lot of "bought-in" tried-and-trusted automation. The company is unique in that it's addressing the challenge of lengthy payback periods when it invests in "bought-in automation cells" by designing and building the cells itself.
This Thermo King site is an unionized plant with a general union and a craft union. It has tackled the issue of hourly and technician development in automation through developing a "multiple entry – multiple exit" university course that can lead to a master's in automation. It has been tricky to find a paygrade solution that provides an incentive to development that does not break the pay structures.
It has also developed the capability to design, build and commission automated robotic cells that deploy robotic arms, distribution boards, visual systems, ground tracking, PLCs, safety systems, etc. The "lean automation" phrase comes from the fact that its newfound ability allows it to dismantle and redeploy these major components after any cell has passed its "sell-by" date and is ready for dismantling.
Thermo King – by Trane Technologies, a global climate innovator, is a worldwide leader in sustainable transport temperature control solutions. Thermo King has been providing transport temperature control solutions for a variety of applications, including trailers, truck bodies, buses, air, shipboard containers and railway cars since 1938. www.thermoking.com