In a recent blog post, we explored how automation, AI and robotics are helping to fortify the supply chain against future disruptions. As a critical link in the supply chain, pallet manufacturing also benefits from automated processes, and Millwood is no exception.
Millwood’s operations include several automated and semi-automated systems. In most cases, these systems do not replace human workers, but work alongside them, allowing them to work more safely and efficiently.
“Many people confuse automation with autonomy, but they are not synonymous. Unlike autonomy, automation does not require that the machinery work without human intervention,” Millwood Project Engineer Brandon Engster said.
“Automation just means that the technology requires a minimal amount of human input to operate. With that said, most automation technology—including ours—has been implemented alongside the human worker to make their jobs less physically demanding and to improve operational efficiency.”
One process that Millwood has begun implementing is our proprietary RAP Line. The RAP Line combines light automation with a simple flow-line system to achieve greater throughput as well as improved ergonomics for the workers stationed along the line.
Other systems at Millwood, like our highly-automated paint lines and pallet stackers, run on the back end of our repair lines without the need for human input except to start, stop and manage jams on the machinery. This frees up team members’ time and skills to be used elsewhere on the production floor.
Because automation reduces the need for difficult manual labor at our facilities, team members are safer, and we are able to hire from a wider demographic.
“It’s not enough to just automate our systems. Automation carries its own inherent risks to personnel working around the machinery; however, combining a well-designed system with good training and a culture of safety minimizes the risks to our team members,” Engster said. “With the help of new technology, we continue to build and install some of the safest and most reliable equipment for our end-users.”
As we mentioned in our previous blog post on automation, implementing the right systems is important for all industries, but especially for the supply chain. The pandemic magnified already-existing supply chain issues and brought new ones with it, causing massive disruptions as those companies who were slow to adapt struggled to keep up or folded under the pressure.
“Organizations that embraced automation early-on are poised for a faster recovery than those that did not. During the pandemic, many organizations heavily reliant upon human labor were driven to extinction,” Engster said. “While automation most likely cannot correct the root causes of the supply chain issue, it can help companies adapt more easily to market volatility.”
Many of the surviving businesses continue to struggle due to supply chain shortages of their own, such as raw materials and components. The labor market is also a continuing concern. At Millwood, we use automation in part to protect ourselves from these and future disruptions.
“As a pallet manufacturing company, we are just as susceptible to the adverse effects of a supply chain shortage. Through automation, organizations like our own can better absorb the blows during an economic crisis and thrive after the supply chain recovers,” Engster said.
Looking forward, Millwood intends to continue to utilize the innovative creativity of our engineering and operations teams to build and integrate the best systems possible. As manufacturing technology continues to advance, Millwood intends to integrate even more types of automation into our facilities.
“With the advancements in technology we are seeing, I would expect to break into some categories of automation that would be new to Millwood, such as robotics, machine vision and machine learning,” Engster said. “But we still have a lot of work to do to get there.”
“In our business, automation can be exciting and rewarding, but also challenging. It is typically expensive, which is why only the most worthy of ideas are implemented. Looking forward, I believe that automation will help us continue our growth and strengthen our relationships with our customers.”
As an industry leader of a key link in the supply chain, Millwood monitors changes in technology so that we can continue providing American businesses with the pallets they need to keep their products moving.