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Three things to consider when automating your manufacturing business

Automation and robotics are two key elements of the fourth industrial revolution and, to feel the benefits of these technologies, manufacturers must have a clear set of plans to implement these changes.

The Manufacturer addressed this issue at its recent Manufacturing Automation and Robotics Symposium in May, bringing together leading minds in the industry to offer practical solutions on how to implement adoption. Here are a few key points I took from the event that can help manufacturers undertake a successful automation and robotics adoption project.

Identify the problem

The first aspect of any automation adoption is identifying what processes can be improved. Large-scale automation projects can be very costly so automating for automation’s sake could be a mistake that could actually make your business less productive.

Having clear goals for what automation will deliver for your business is key to this, but mapping outcomes is just the first step. At this initial stage it is critical to have a clear understanding of desires versus budget. Do not allow your desires to overstretch the allocated budget, as costs can and will spiral without proper understanding of what can be achieved financially.

Unless a line is having a major upgrade, full-scale automation may not be the best approach for your business. The drivers for automation can be very specific to each individual company and the processes used. This could include more timely access to data, additional energy monitoring, asset health indication, reduced errors in data or reduced time spent compiling reports.

You can certainly get some of the benefits of current automation technology without perhaps fully automating your entire production line. As was repeated more than once at the event, by proving the concept of automation on one particular process, it can be easier to scale the project going forward.

Engaging the workforce

I have spoken previously in my blogs about how the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated adoption of digital technologies across the globe. But with rapid adoption brings different challenges for manufacturers, ensuring that they bring their workforce along with them is one of them.

Engaging the workforce in these changes is essential to ensure productivity gains. Without proper consultation of the operators, it is unlikely that an automation project will get off the ground. Speak to your workforce, they are the ones on the factory floor day in day out and know the challenges the business is facing from a production perspective.

The transition to new technologies can, at first, cause some trepidation within the workforce. However, manufacturers need to engage with their staff to help them understand how automation can aid them in their working day.

As Kevin White, Process Control & Automation Manager, Engineering, Technical and Production Services Department at Tata Steel, put it so nicely:

If you can get the operators doing less of the jobs they would rather not do and give them an opportunity to actually add more value to the business through continuous improvement or optimisation activities, then it’s a win-win situation.

Choosing the right partner

For a company considering automation for the first time, the biggest challenge can be the expertise level of the integrators or the automation company you are relying upon. It is essential that you have a technology partner that understands your business and the problem you are trying to solve.

Unless you are prepared to build up detailed automation expertise in your own business, you would benefit from the skills and experience of a specialist automation company for your industry. There are many companies out there offering generic automation solutions that have all the bells and whistles, but if they do not fully understand the changes you are trying to make, it can often confuse the project.

Speak to different vendors; there is a strong likelihood there is a company that specialises in your industry and knows your processes already.

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