Automation Advantages Require Careful Planning to Obtain

In the News
April 12, 2017

CHICAGO — Robotics can provide companies with cost savings, better production efficiencies, and other benefits.

However, some companies also have unrealistic expectations of automation advantages, said Craig Salvalaggio, vice president of engineering at Applied Manufacturing Technologies, at last week’s Automate 2017 show here.

“Automation allows companies to use human workers for more value-added tasks,” he said. “But there are more stories about automation projects that were turned off than there are about successful automation projects.”

Most of the failures were due to poor planning, Salvalaggio added. “Should you decide to automate, you need to identify what the requirements are and understand the process and level of automation,” he said.

Business Takeaways:

  • There is no single path to reaping automation advantages, noted a speaker at Automate 2017. Human judgment is still a key factor for getting started with or expanding robotics use.
  • Automation promises to make operations more efficient and productive, leading to reshoring of production. However, businesses should be realistic about which processes to automate and consider an RaaS model.
  • Considerations for adopting robotics in manufacturing include an understanding of current technical capabilities, cost constraints, and compliance with safety rules.

Smarter, faster, better
Several technical improvements have converged to drive automation adoption, according to Salvalaggio. Robotic systems have more intelligence, so they need less human intervention while in operation. Grippers are more dexterous.

Companies such as General Electric Co. are adding predictive analysis to improve the deployment of automation and other technology.

Better automation in the U.S. also means more reshoring of production, Salvalaggio added. The U.S. tends to have lower energy costs than other countries, he said.

In addition, Salvalaggio said, onshoring production, particularly for products sold in this country, reduces transportation costs and eliminates any tariffs.

An oft-cited automation advantage is that it can be used to eliminate humans from unsafe and repetitive tasks.

Be an informed customer
“But not every process is good for automation,” Salvalaggio noted. “After running a deep analysis, you may find that automation may not be answer for your underlying problem.”

He also cautioned companies against investing in robotics projects simply because they were enamored by many of the successful demonstrations at Automate or other trade shows.

“You need to consider the tooling, the equipment, and all of the other costs involved,” Salvalaggio warned.

Companies should consider automation to increase throughput, decrease labor costs, improve quality and safety, and reduce the facility footprint, he said.

The top business requirements when considering an automation project are the...

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