How robots make companies more efficient

Cuisi-n-art, an SME in Gatineau that manufactures kitchen cabinets and bathroom furniture, has in particular acquired a drawer press machine to automate the assembly of this part of the furniture. (Photo: 123RF)

MANUFACTURING. Production growth, increased efficiency, new business opportunities… The adoption of robots brings many benefits to manufacturing companies, which is why they are increasingly automating their processes.

“From 2016 to 2021, non-residential capital expenditure, including robots, increased by 22% in Quebec,” says Lyne Dubois, vice president of the Quebec Industrial Research Center (CRIQ) at Investissement Quebec.

After all, Canada lags behind the major industrialized countries. According to the latest data from Statistics Canada, the country ranked 13th in the world for robot density in 2016, with 145 machines in use for every 10,000 employees. South Korea ranked 1st (631 robots), while the United States ranked 7th (189).

However, Canada could climb up this ranking, at least if we are to believe in the variety of manufacturing companies that are currently automating their production process.

This is the case of Verbois, a furniture maker from Rivière-du-Loup, in Bas-Saint-Laurent. Between 2017 and 2021, the SME invested US$1 million (US$1 million) in this direction.

“We largely removed the monotonous, dangerous and repetitive tasks,” explains COO, Étienne Gagnon. The company, which has sales of between $5 million and $10 million, plans another investment of $1 million by 2023.

The spin-offs are conclusive, underlines the director general, Marie-Ève ​​D’Amours. “We have doubled the production of table tops with the new machine”, she illustrates, adding that the total production of the SME has increased by an average of 40 to 45% per year in the last three years.

5% annual efficiency gains

APN Global, a Quebec-based manufacturer of precision parts for the aerospace, defense and high-tech industries, is another example of a manufacturing SME that benefits from automation.

“The participation of robots in the automation of our production lines is increasingly important”, says Yves Proteau, co-president of this company 4.0 (machines communicate).

Bots aren’t the only automation element in APN Global, however.

“We automate the measurement, planning, oil filling of our machines, etc.,” he lists. Every day we work to make our process more efficient. We are also working to automate accounting functions such as invoice entry.”

Changes that generate interesting results. Each year, APN Global achieves productivity gains of approximately 5%, while the Quebec manufacturing sector’s annual average was 0.7% between 2016 and 2020 (compared to 0.2% in Ontario and 0.5% in Canada), according to a recent analysis by Investissement Quebec.

Crab crusher and packer

Several other Quebec companies have recorded significant gains after having robotized or mechanized their production process. Among them, Cuisi-n-art, an SME from Gatineau that manufactures kitchen cabinets and bathroom furniture.

In particular, it acquired a drawer press machine to automate the assembly of this part of the furniture. “This allowed us to triple production for each operator”, calculates the company’s president, Anya Baumberger.

Every year, Cuisi-n-art invests 10% to 15% of its revenue “to be more efficient”. In 2020, it invested US$ 3 million to build a factory capable of accommodating its new production line. All after a 4.0 audit.

“We did active research to see what was being done elsewhere, especially in other countries,” says Anya Baumberger. A profitable investment, as it should pay for itself in a period of two to three years.

As for Les Crabiers du Nord, the total investment to modernize its production line in Portneuf-sur-Mer on the North Shore amounts to $3.8 million for the decade 2012-2022, including nearly 3 million over 3 years.

On the other hand, the SME did not invest in robots, but in mechanized systems, such as a packing line for snow crabs or an automatic filleting machine for flatfish.

That said, the efficiency gains are significant, insists consultant Alain Samuel, who helps modernize Crabiers du Nord. “We have reduced misclassification losses and can reduce production time by 5-10%,” he estimates.

Automation also makes it possible to take advantage of new business opportunities, because it reduces the workforce, emphasizes the consultant, giving as an example the Greenland halibut market, sold whole or in fillets.

“Before, we didn’t have people to make the nets, he observes. Today, thanks to the automatic filleting machine, we are able to meet this demand and obtain better margins than for selling whole halibut.”

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