These days, automation seems to be on every manufacturer’s agenda. And for good reason! It has revolutionized the industry, and it continues to play a pivotal role in boosting productivity, efficiency, and overall quality. Deciding when to automate your manufacturing processes is a critical step that requires thoughtful consideration.
This article explores what you need to consider when determining the right time to introduce automation into your manufacturing processes.
Repetitive, manual tasks…many of them
If you’re looking for straightforward signs that it’s time to automate, repetitive tasks are one of the most obvious ones. Does your routine involve manual tasks like digging up data through endless Excel sheets? Are these tasks both time-consuming and prone to error? Then this is a strong indicator that automation could bring significant value.
Using automation, you can forget about the pain of manual work and perform tasks with speed and accuracy, ensuring consistent results. You’ll also have the advantage of collecting real-time data, which can be invaluable for decision-making and process optimization.
Variation, human error, and other risks
No matter what you’re manufacturing, your aim is to deliver and maintain the highest quality standards. Yet, manual work and using outdated systems go hand-in-hand with variation, human error and other risks. In contrast, automated processes excel in delivering consistency.
Even just automating specific steps in a process can be a strategic move to meet your quality standards consistently. For example, after automating one of their processes with a cloud-based Quality Management Software (QMS), TenCate Grass, a synthetic turf manufacturer cut the time spent on manual tasks by an astonishing 86%.
The issue of rising demand and scalability
Time is often a crucial factor in manufacturing. When your manufacturing operation experiences growth or fluctuating demand, automation is not only an attractive option but can become a competitive advantage. Using it can help you adapt to changes in production volume more easily. Unlike traditional methods, you can scale your production capacity up or down as needed without increasing labor and production costs.
Automating processes can also significantly increase production speed. Moreover, if your customers demand customized products, automation can streamline the production of these efficiently.
Health and safety concerns
Manufacturing often involves hazardous or physically demanding tasks that put workers' health and safety at risk. By automating these aspects, you not only improve workplace safety but also enhance overall working conditions for your employees. It's a win-win situation that addresses both ethical and practical considerations.
Compliance – an administrative burden
Regulatory requirements and industry standards often necessitate stringent quality control and traceability. This also relates to process adherence: if compliance adds complexity or is perceived as an administrative burden, people are likely to bypass it. Keeping it simple and clear is the key.
Implementing a QMS and using automation means traceable data – including specification history, actions taken to facilitate improvement, and details on when something was changed and by whom. These insights guarantee good discipline and compliance.
Enhanced cost of poor quality
The impact of poor quality can be very far-reaching – from obvious costs like rework but also less obvious costs that can have an even bigger impact. Here you can consider the additional energy costs derived from rework, the wear of your equipment, brand reputation damage due to quality incidents, demotivated staff that need to perform the same task again, just to name a few examples.
Sure, there’s an initial investment in automation but this can lead to long-term savings. Automation can significantly reduce operational costs related to labor, energy, materials and more. And using automation is not as hard as you might think. Take for instance a no-code Quality Management System that empowers quality teams to take this step even without involving the IT department.
The decision to automate manufacturing processes should be a well-considered one. Assess your specific needs, industry requirements, and future goals to determine when automation is the right step for your manufacturing operation. But remember, if the necessity is there, and you already have tooling at your disposal, there is no reason not to start. Automation can transform your manufacturing processes, enhance efficiency, and position your business for long-term success.