Investing in automation can yield significant gains for your manufacturing activities, from increasing speed to dramatically reducing costs. However, every process automation and robotics design is unique. Identifying your organizational requirements — and prioritizing them based on your objectives — will help determine what robotics, process design and AI tools are right for you.
There are four main variables to consider when identifying your requirements for an automation solution: precision, payload, cycle time and reach. Here’s a closer look at how strategically prioritizing these different variables during requirements gathering can help you achieve different goals and maximum benefit for your organization.
Four components of manufacturing processes: A quick overview
Each factory floor and manufacturing process is different. These differences come down to your organization’s products being assembled, infrastructure and staffing. That’s why automation specialists put significant weight on requirements gathering.
During this phase, you’ll take the time to really understand your unique needs and explore them in detail, while also pinpointing your specific targets in each of the following areas:
Precision: One of the most important areas in process automation and robotics installations is defining your precision targets. During the manufacturing process, individual components may need to be placed within 5 microns of a specific target. Precision refers to this target area — especially when the process is conducted over and over again as part of a repeatable action during a production run.
Payload: Payload is the maximum weight a robot can safely have on the end of the arm. It’s important to remember that this includes tooling, components and anything else that might add to the total weight.
Cycle time: Cycle time is all about speed. What’s the minimum number of parts per day, week or month that you need to achieve in order to hit your production goals? From there, it’s possible to break this down into a measurement that’s important for automation: parts per minute.
Reach: In addition to how fast a robot can move through production steps or how much it can lift, it’s also important to determine how far it has to reach. Reach refers to the physical distance that the robot has to move specific components during the manufacturing process.\
A note on the importance of prioritizing requirements
Now that you understand the four elements of the manufacturing process, let’s look at how they’re prioritized during automation road mapping. In an ideal world, every element of your automated manufacturing process is a top priority and can be optimized for the highest degree of priority.
In reality, robotics, automated processes and even AI have limitations. Programming to one very tight specification — such as precision — can mean a reduced parts-per-minute cycle load. For example, if your factory is manufacturing the latest smartphone that’s smaller than all its competitors, the precision of placing chips, wires and other components is going to be essential. You also want to go as fast as possible. Yet programming a robot to maximize on the precision needed to bring this product to reality may mean that production runs a bit slower to compensate.
Understanding what’s critical to delivering the highest quality product, while maximizing your profits and productivity, is an essential part of designing a system that’s right for you. By honing in on what your organization really needs, you’ll be prepared to make the tradeoffs needed and achieve the best results. The big takeaway for leaders is to realize the importance of customizing any solution to your individual needs.
A four-step process for prioritizing during requirements gathering
Once you’ve outlined the four areas where you’ll focus your automation efforts and gotten clear about the need for prioritization, it’s time to work with your automation specialist to decide how to customize your process. Some aspects to consider include:
- Define your top process priorities. When you look at your most important contracts, customers and business lines, what’s your priority? For example, sophisticated electronics may require precision, and high-volume contracts may put weight on achieving optimum cycle times. Be realistic about defining your top priority—that makes it easier to decide how to balance different aspects of automation performance.
- Consider your growth strategies and future plans. How do you envision your business growing over time, and can automation help fuel that? For example, let’s say you currently focus on automotive manufacturing. If you’re hoping to create additional production lines for motorcycles, that may require the ability to make changes to greater precision in the future. Understanding your growth plans can help you make long-term decisions about prioritizing.
- Consult a range of stakeholders. On one level, prioritization is about creating a solution that meets specific mechanical specifications to produce a particular product. At the same time, customers, factory floor managers and executives may have other perspectives. For example, an executive may know that increasing cycle time will open up vast business opportunities with a prospective client and that prioritizing this will pay dividends in the long term. Don’t forget to consult all your constituents before finalizing prioritization plans.
- Explore the possibilities and limitations within your budget. Robotics and automation are more affordable than ever before, and cost savings and increases in production can help customers quickly see a profit on their investments. However, it’s important to consider the role of budget in your automation process. For example, if payload is important, moving up a class to a higher model of robot may enable you to satisfactorily balance other factors without giving up the ability to move significant weight. If budget is more of a concern, you can look at prioritization through a different lens.
Defining your requirements takes time, understanding your process and defining your goals. Prioritizing one area often requires trade-offs to maximize the results a robot can achieve. However, understanding the different dynamics that are at play — including precision, reach, cycle time and payload — can help you make a strategic investment that will yield long-term results.
Ready to learn more about how automation can help you reach your goals? Download the guide Automation 101: Getting Started with Robotics today to get started.