There are many reasons to consider adding automation to your manufacturing processes. We have worked with customers that needed to increase their production rates to meet market demands, reduce labor costs to be more competitive, eliminate safety risks, or other reasons. We have seen many cases that the customer needs could be satisfied with other operations management tools such as applying lean principals. Those experiences helped us arrive at the conclusion that we must understand the objectives and requirements of the process before we begin designing an automated solution. In this article, we have listed a few steps that are important and should be done prior to going straight to implement an automation solution.
The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.
– Bill Gates
Map the Value Stream
The first step in understanding a process well and making it lean is to map the value stream. Mike Rother and John Shook named their book on value stream mapping very well. It's called "Learning to See". Value stream mapping is a really eye opening process that helps us understand what the value added activities are. It's sometimes hard to see that there are only a handful of short value added activates that happen during a long lead time process. When you have a value stream, you can see the non-value added activities and wastes.
The next step is eliminating the waste and non-value added activities if possible. Some of these can be eliminated even in the manual process. Some others could give you ideas about the objectives and requirements of your future automated solution. It's critical to eliminate what is unnecessary, so you don't end up automating something that does not even need to happen.
At this step, you want to review your process and see how you can simplify it. Reducing complexity will result in a much better automation solution. The unnecessary complexity must be identified and removed to improve the manual or ultimate automated solution.
There are many cases that the resources and tools to complete a process step are not utilized properly. Those operations can be improved if one takes the time to optimize them. Optimizing the manual process will provide a better understanding of what the ultimate automated solution could achieve.
After you complete all the previous steps, you can begin evaluating the value that an automated solution can bring to your operations. We have been amazed to watch how much our clients have been able to accomplish before they begin allocating any capex to their automation project. The learnings out of this exercise result in establishing clear goals and objectives for the desired automation solution.
“A goal properly set is halfway reached.”
– Zig Ziglar