Cakes, different configs e.g. fan, vertical, fanned right or fanned left and some others can be done via using simple wooden templates in the same shape. You then get the tubes dab a dozen in a slat or tray of glue and put them glue side first on a piece of card or paper which act as the separators for each section of the cake. you do this until you reach the top of the stencil and leave them to dry while you do a load more. Once dry each section is then fused and glued and fused again to transfer fire from each section. Then you have the loaders who will load the cakes and cap them and after that the packers or labellers etc.
When you have the materials at hand this process shouldn't take long and are not really what you call specialist jobs. The inserts for the cakes can be pressed in a press jig of say 50 tubes at a time to press any sort of clay delay or lift and clay delay with a time fuse. The shells can be loaded with powder and stars or other effects without to much hassle, capped and filled with fibre glass resin, clay or some other filler material for extra strength. When you work with a lot at the same time much like the Chinese things speed up dramatically anyhow and you dont want workers lazying around spending hours on one product at a time you want large production runs with good quality products that are dished out quick. The motor tubes can easily be plugged and a whole punched in them, the Chinese actually have a tool that does this!
We are looking into cake production way to much, just study the Chinese, adapt the methods and find easier and cheaper ways around it. I was also thinking about product designers online as today the internet is 'THE THING' and the only way to fully push yourself forward now. Any custom products would need to be a minimum of a few hundred or thousand depending upon the product to be feasible but will be a great facility to have on board.
As far as I am concerned no machine should handle live explosives unless it is a press, grader, mixer or some other smaller lower tech machine. Now I don't believe one should just hop straight into this business because grandpa Bernard had an amazing list of pyro formula and methods of construction etc like some factories may have done but one should really find where they can optimize formulas and also cheapen them down while keeping them effective to make the device as cheaply as possible and also as quickly as possible because. I believe you need to evaluate all processes, product lines, formula and techniques etc and find ways of always optimizing them, cheapening them and making them more effective overall constantly to keep moving forward. For instance is black powder always effective for lifting my devices if I can use less of a material that gets me better and more accurate results for a lot less money? Nope, so why keep using it?
Just my two cents . Keep it coming this is interesting.
I like this topic and your thinking. some of the processes involved in respect of many cardboard tubes glued & slotted on a balsa wood or thick card template can be bought-in, and or part assembled on site, this could include clay plugging.
Pre-punching or drilling many holes in tubes in one go is not a problem provided this is done before insertion of comps/powders.
The insertion of fuses for cake making using current methods is a lot trickier, although I think there are many other ways to experiment or approach this subject via new concepts involving the way powders/comps can be encased in film or pre-compressed & formed to ease spillage or pre-ingnition problems and its potential to cause danger when insertion by non-static material machinery.
There is also the option to look at hoppers for filling tubes with powder or comps.
Pre-scored tubes with fuses running inside the length of a tube another option to look at, i sure this could be part-automated.
I think the heath robinson approach using remote filling and cameras would be my method of approach in terms of cost and the likelyhood of destruction or safety issues whilst practicing.
As digger has said, I personally would aim for the niche or high end market/cat 4 large shell market, and not compete with the chinese on retail fireworks until trading terms/conditions change in our favour via government legislation.