Many US-based process manufacturers know that an investment in automation is critical for maintaining a competitive advantage. Companies may have looked at automation as a series of stand-alone projects, vs. approaching automation from an integrated strategic level on a company-wide basis. This approach can result in low ROI because while the projects may have been successful from a technical standpoint, they do not achieve the desired overall results to affect the bottom line.
With 2016 right around the corner, it is time to look at an investment in automation as the starting point of a business improvement plan. Manufacturers need to look at automation from the top down, by identifying the challenges of the business, then finding ways automation can be used to meet those challenges and attain business goals.
Automation should be viewed as a key part of the overall business strategy in 2016, not just a series of independent projects. This will help make a connection between your business and automation strategy and how the two are closely aligned.
Be smart in 2016 and take the approach of using an automation strategy to implement the right technology in the right way to get ahead of your competition! Let’s walk through how it’s done.
Automation is best implemented in an environment where the equipment is seamless and intuitive. The automation should flow with the conventional manufacturing methods, create an obvious workflow, robust capability, and common operator interface. The result is an automation plan that achieves superior performance objectives and is welcomed by the workforce.
Unlocking the full potential of automation requires planning and can result in significant monetary and labor savings. Some items to take into account for effective automation include:
- Knowing if automation is right for your process and when is the best time to implement a solution
- Understand the ROI calculations of your project. The best ROI comes through the development of automation solutions that enhance manufacturing processes.
- Knowing production requirements and operator needs
- Create goals for long term production requirements, product mix, and workflow
If the objective is to create effective automation through an understanding of the long-term manufacturing plan, then the next step is to create a plan that your operations team can support. This step of determining the pains of the organization can facilitate the design of manufacturing and automation solutions that can support increased throughput, uptime, and quality.
- Investing in automation is the cornerstone of a world-class manufacturing strategy due to its predictable nature.
- Remove difficult operator intensive applications
- Identify the areas where quality issues result from operator input
- Determine the production flow that facilitates material handling for the identification of quality versus rejected components.
KNOW THE FACTS
Automation systems that are implemented correctly have huge benefits to manufacturers. Below are a few facts about automation that could help you meet your 2016 goals:
- Less production variability
- Reduced Maintenance
- Reduced changeover time
- Improved consistency of quality
- Reduced energy usage
- Avoided downtime
- Increased throughput
- Better working conditions
- Positive cash flow in less than a year
Choose the right partner! Select an integrator who is a true partner, and helps your company identify, develop, and implement the most beneficial automation solutions for you.
- Be ready to discuss the pain points of your manufacturing process from the operators to management
- Floorplan restriction can be mitigated by setting up 1 year, 3 year, and 5 year plans that gradually achieve the desired floorplan
- Low volume, high mix applications require a different engineering approach for staging as well as changeover
- Create an automation standard for operator interface, safety, maintenance, and changeover. This will increase operator efficiency, reduce downtime, and result in cross-functionality between departments.
- Keep the capability of your equipment in mind as you design new products. Since products designed for automation typically have higher quality and lower piece cost.
START-UP STRATEGIES TO AVOID
There are a number of problems that result from improper preparation. To name a few of the most common include:
- Lack of understanding of the root cause for manufacturing throughput and quality issues
- Not preparing a staged approach to your manufacturing and automation plan
- Partnering with an inexperienced engineering firm
- Underplaying the effect of automation on the entire manufacturing process
- Limiting the improvements to too small a window
- Not planning to reject part workflow
- Lack of operator training on not only the equipment but the manufacturing process.
When you take the time to develop an automation strategy, it will not only increase your short-term productivity and profits but will also prepare you to scale up as your manufacturing footprint expands. Midwest Engineered Systems can help you develop an effective automation strategy for a current process for a new product.