Initially, Industrial Automation (IA) emerged primarily as a domain of high-volume manufacturers in the automotive industry. However, more and more IA practitioners begin to urge small- and medium-size manufacturers to embrace the technology.
You see, as industrial automation technology matures, it becomes more accessible to smaller-size manufacturers and allows them to reap economic benefits from it. Industrial robots are now more advanced, easier to set up and less expensive. Modern automation systems are highly flexible and switch efficiently between multiple tasks. Machine tools generate real-time data that is used to continuously optimize production process performance.
With the growing number of automation options and a smaller budget to invest (as opposed to large-scale manufacturers), small- and medium-size manufacturers must…
… choose their battles.
The good news is that automation can generate gains at any stage of the production process and bring a variety of benefits (volume increase, cost reductions, zero production defects, etc.). The bad news is that not all automation has the same impact. This is why it’s worth taking a step back from all the automation buzz and take a good look at your company’s priorities, customer’s expectations and production process, identify improvement alternatives, costs and benefits related to them and prioritize those solutions that have the most impact on your business. Depending on your business context, semi-automated production processes can be as beneficial as fully automated ones. So, no pressure.:)
… think long-term.
Modern automation systems are highly flexible and switch more efficiently between different tasks, allowing smaller manufacturers to produce lower volumes and diversify the product line more economically. While Fixed Automation (where an automation application is adapted to a single repetitive task) is less expensive in the short term, Flexible Automation saves costs in a long run. When your product has to evolve to meet changing customer demands, you can manage this transition more efficiently with Flexible Automation.
… take a holistic look at the process.
The most common and cost-efficient form of manufacturing automation at a smaller-scale plant is semi-automated process. When aiming to automate the system partially, it is important to remember that when one step of the process is automated, it may impact subsequent steps. Therefore, it also makes sense to ensure that the whole process runs efficiently and major bottlenecks don’t occur.
… understand the total investment.
A realistic estimation of costs related to an automation solution includes the purchase of equipment, set-up, employee training, reoccurring maintenance and repairs. This total overview should inform your investment decision properly.
We think that technology can and should bring value to different business players. Having a heart for smaller businesses, we think that, with advancements in industrial technology, smaller-scale manufacturers have’ve got a real opportunity to increase their competitiveness, profitability and serve customers in the best way possible. We also recognize that business context of a smaller manufacturer differs from the one of a large-scale enterprise and demands smart cost-effective investments.
These are some of our ideas on IA for smaller-scale manufacturers and we are curious to hear yours. Leave them in the comments below or contact us directly.
For more content like this, go here.
Are you a small- or medium-size plant that could benefit from automation? Let us know. We help businesses like yours to design and implement high-impact cost-effective automation solutions. More information is here.