Chief Technology Officer and Co-Founder at Plex Systems, focused on next-generation cloud solutions for the manufacturing enterprise.
The Covid-19 pandemic and its subsequent ripple effects have permanently changed the course of business for many markets and industries. It forced organizations to explore ways to eliminate manual processes where possible for both faster results and less reliance on skilled resources, a challenge many industries will face for some time. Manufacturers, specifically, will look to these advancements to remain efficient and agile.
Manufacturing automation tools deliver the ability to streamline workflows by removing human process errors and delays to keep operations lean, efficient and productive — and also allow manufacturers to measure asset and production performance. Here is a breakdown of these key benefits:
Many companies today are dealing with the new norm — less skilled human resources available relative to years past to keep up with rising demand. Automating production processes is a necessary step because it will save time, reduce errors and produce huge results.
Process automation tools and technologies are designed to perform tasks faster than a person, and they don’t require sleep, breaks or lunch — making 24/7 operations more efficient. At the end of the day, process automation enables organizations to do more with less in less time. In fact, McKinsey predicts automation could raise productivity growth globally by 0.8-1.4% annually.
Reduces Human Error
As cited by HBR, bad data costs U.S. companies $3 trillion each year. While getting an order wrong or entering incorrect quality data are problems that can be resolved, it takes up valuable time. If those problems start to impact customer satisfaction, it can negatively impact the entire business, contribute to churn and create more work for staff in the long term. Manual data collection can cost businesses dearly. The automation of redundant tasks like data entry allows organizations to have deeper trust in their data.
Imagine a world where you don’t have to lose money and customers because of a misplaced document or copy/paste error — process automation eliminates this.
Produces Valuable Data
Manufacturers are constantly focused on finding ways to excel and enhance their business processes. A pillar to this success is data.
Manufacturing automation enables production visualizations and dashboards as well as asset performance management to allow a manufacturer to capture, visualize and analyze live data on machine health and performance (sensor inputs, machine state, PLC events, error codes and part numbers) for a live view on “what’s happening.”
Take this scenario, for example: Raw data from sensors on the plant floor can determine if an asset (a stamping press, a heat-treating furnace, etc.) is having any abnormalities. Rather than it breaking down on a Tuesday afternoon in the middle of a big order, you know a month ahead of time that it needs to be fixed, and you can plan for that. The system tracks and alerts you without someone walking around 24/7 taking hundreds of potential measurements per machine — which is not humanly possible, let alone practical.
The manufacturing environment is incredibly dynamic. Automating data collection and visualizations to produce valuable insights like efficiency, throughput and uptime is key to achieving a competitive advantage in today’s new manufacturing reality.
Creates More Jobs
There has been considerable debate as to whether automation and digital transformation are leading to mass unemployment, in which robots and computers take over jobs. Historical patterns suggest automation creates more jobs than it destroys. According to a policy brief on automation from OECD, employment in total will continue to rise even if automation disrupts specific industries.
Automation is no longer a threat to employees, but rather an important tool for any manufacturing business. This suite of technologies will free employees from mundane and tedious tasks in order to think more strategically about the business. As a result, employers can provide opportunities for employees to upscale their careers to provide new career paths that help them retain valuable employees — a critical component during the “Great Resignation.”
By removing repetitive tasks and allocating employees to more valuable and interesting parts of the business, they will be more satisfied, increasing positive business outcomes.
How It Can Be Done
Manufacturing automation tools are becoming the norm in manufacturing — but where should you start? Identifying what you should automate is one of the first steps. Not every task can be automated, but there are some easy go-to examples that can be easily automated. Ask yourself these questions: Is this task repetitive? Time-sensitive? Does it involve a number of people and processes? Identify these tasks, and from there, create a road map of their current processes/steps in order to start shaping the transition to greater levels of automation.
To implement this transition, you have to choose the right tools for automation and make sure that they work for your business objectives. This is where research is required to find the best solutions.
The next step is arguably the most important. You must ensure employees are on board and the benefits of automation are clearly communicated to avoid potential resistance to digitization. Getting buy-in from staff and training employees in the use of new software helps ensure it will be used effectively for the long term.
Finally, you must set and track goals for continuous improvement. In order to see positive, lasting change, your organization needs to decide what its goals are and how automation will help achieve them.
Manufacturing automation is revolutionizing business processes. Those who choose to stay with the status quo of legacy manual approaches risk losing out on transformative benefits to take on the challenges of our post-Covid reality.