From decreasing costs to speeding up the production floor, robotics, AI and process automation are changing the way manufacturers and industrial industries operate. Toward Data Science estimates that robotics process automation (RPA) alone will save companies as much as $5-$7 trillion by 2025.
The first step to successfully automating your manufacturing process is to take a deeper dive into the process itself. Many organizations find this to be an unexpected roadblock. Here’s a closer look at the common problems organizations encounter when adopting process automation and how you can address them before they hinder your growth and expansion.
An undocumented process
Process automation starts with looking at your current manufacturing process, and then designing customized solutions that meet your unique needs. Engineers and consultants work closely with clients to take into account their existing infrastructure, staffing, products manufactured, and productivity and profit goals when designing automation solutions. The first step? Looking at your existing process to understand what’s working well, where delays are occurring and how automation can improve your results.
Is your manufacturing process documented? For some organizations, it’s surprising to realize that documentation is minimal or out of date. If there are gaps, it’s important to document your process or update before heading into an automation consultation. Start by describing your process to someone unfamiliar with it. Areas to evaluate include where you’re sourcing products, the components used, your current staffing and infrastructure, and step-by-step instructions for assembly and quality assurance. The more complete your process documentation, the more streamlined and cost effective your automation will be.
The wrong stakeholders at the table
Once the manufacturing process is documented, it’s helpful to ensure that you have the right stakeholders at the table. Automation affects decisions and day-to-day life at all levels of the organization. What is your leadership willing to invest in? Do factory floor managers understand the operational changes that are forthcoming and how they’ll need to train their teams to meet those challenges?
Can your sales team or customer success experts help share insights on where the market is headed and what customers are asking for? Having the right people at the table to discuss automation can ensure your investment yields the results your company is looking for. Include perspectives from your executive, operations, factory floor and customer facing teams to ensure the most complete perspective on what you’re trying to achieve with automation.
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.
Lack of process design strategies
Another consideration when you’re moving toward automation is using the right process design strategies. For many organizations, manufacturing processes are organic. Based on the products being manufactured, you’ve designed the best process for your current set up.
Moving from manual manufacturing to automation often requires changes to the process you previously created. These might range from the components used to the order of assembly steps. Embracing a design philosophy, such as Design for Assembly (DFA), can help you assess your process systematically. From there, it’s easier to make strategic decisions about what changes automation will bring to every part of the process, from sourcing components to quality assurance control.
Unclear goals for automation investments
What are your objectives with automation? It’s possible to take a factory floor design and automate the operations in a number of ways. Process automation is successful when it helps you achieve your goals. Yet many organizations move toward automation without a clear sense of the long-term benefits they want to capture.
For example, a factory might invest in automation to speed up production so they’re able to meet the objectives of customers who are scaling their growth. Others may be trying to expand their capabilities in the wake of a skills shortage, which 75 percent of manufacturers reported in a study by Accenture. Both of these are important goals, but might lead an automation expert to suggest a different roadmap. As part of the automation process, define your goals — both immediate and longer-term. That will help you prioritize investments and choose tools and solutions that move your business forward.
Undiagnosed bottlenecks or issues
One of the goals of process automation is overcoming bottlenecks and delays. For example, if human operators are assembling a product that requires two metal parts, the process might look something like this: add first metal component to the plastic molded body, and then add second. What happens if the two components commonly get mixed up?
Finding the areas of delays, bottlenecks or final-quality breakdowns in your process is a critical step in automation process design. The right automation solutions can help you target these areas for improvement. Focus on delays, common breakdowns and steps that cause final products to not meet quality guidelines. Issues such as overly complicated processes, human error and equipment breakdowns can all be contributors. Outline problem areas as part of your process documentation efforts, and it will be easier to implement automation solutions that hone in on addressing those specific issues.
Automation can help manufacturers achieve a wide range of goals. And implementing robotics, AI and other automation solutions starts with assessing your manufacturing process. By being aware of common challenges — from lack of documentation to not having the right stakeholders at the table — you can take action now to ensure that your process is ready for automation and optimization.
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.