Through the years here at Setpoint we have seen automation companies come and go, and here are some of the things that we have learned as an industry leader. Anybody who is looking for automation should know the following 10 things – but if you don’t, that’s okay; we’ll guide you through it.
1. Automation can be a practical alternative to overseas labor.
Automating processes can decrease labor costs associated with producing products by combining multiple steps into one compact machine, making it cost effective to remain at home.
2. Costs twice as much and takes twice as long as you think.
When automating processes, the inclination is to look at the big components like robots or electrical control systems, add up their costs, and then factor in some engineering hours. What is forgotten, however, are important items like light curtains, safety guarding, brackets, pneumatic valves, hoses, cables or rails to move the robot back and forth as well as the items that are required to make all components work together. Lead times on robots can be 16-18 weeks, with most lead times on major items averaging around 8 weeks. With the lead-time on components being so long, a project can take twice as long as you are anticipating it will.
3. Cheap and fast, or good and reliable: which one do you want?
If you don’t want to pay a lot and still get a Mercedes Benz product, chances are it will be broken and rusting away in a corner. If you want a fast solution, you’re rushing through the design and assembly, risking the chance of excluding some critical safety or quality measures that you need. The good and reliable solution is like getting the Mercedes Benz at the proper cost and in a timeframe that allows for proper lead times and a good design to be built.
4. Technologies are constantly changing.
Just because you bought something 5 years ago, and it works well, it doesn’t mean that it’s still the best technology on the market. Think about how many updates and upgrades there are with the typical computer; there is always some upgrade or new version that makes it function better. The same holds true for automation, products are improving and new technologies are constantly emerging.
5. It’s difficult for companies inexperienced in automation to articulate and visualize what is needed.
If you can’t articulate what you want, you don’t need it. For companies just starting down the automation path, there are a number of processes and capabilities that they do know, but hundreds more that they don’t. A good automation company can help suggest better options to make your process run smoothly.
Reveals flaws in processes and part consistency — inconsistent parts don’t work well with automation.
6. Processes and tolerances must be tightened up
When automating a process, tolerances, dimensions, and part accuracy are critical. Processes must be consistent. If not, the automated process won’t work and you will hate the machine.
7. Just because you can build your parts with a hammer and an anvil, it doesn’t mean the process can be automated.
Although we would love to be able to automate every process, sometimes the cost of the machine versus the payback makes it unwise.
8. Chances are that your automation vendor will be out of business within 2 years.
Most automation companies are small businesses that design machines one at a time and then pass on all intellectual property to the customer along with the machine. When purchasing machines, 60-65% of the price is for materials needed to build the machine. If the machine is not paid for until the end of the project the automation company runs the risk of paying for the machine and the design of it until it is complete. This practice, along with taking on machines that are risky for the company because they may not specialize or have experience in certain areas, can put companies out of business. Be prepared to put money down on a custom automation project.
9. Lean automation still means you need labor.
Automating processes does reduce your labor force, but does not eliminate it. Lean automation still needs someone to run the machine that has the ability to stop the production line if parts are being processed incorrectly or if an error is occurring.
10. A full automation effort will require maintenance and spare parts to sustain reliability and a high uptime.
All machines need to have routine preventative maintenance performed on them. Spare parts need to be maintained to replace those parts that wear out. Sensors and vision systems need to be adjusted and tightened back into place to maintain the reliability of the machine.
11. Automation will never call in sick, show up late, or create a sexual harassment lawsuit for your company.
This one just speaks for itself.
I know that was actually 11, but since we’ve automated most of our processes around here, I had to do something with my extra time.