Any automation used correctly will definitely add value to a proven product. But, going into it blindly is like tossing money into a paper shredder. There has to be a fundamental and logical reason for going into the cost and development of new automation. Many companies don’t understand what they’re asking for and base their product development process on the mantra of “Ready, Fire, Aim instead of “Ready, Aim, Fire”. Because of this, often important issues come to the surface after the fact.
Before embarking on investing in automation on any level, ask the following questions:
- Is the product only in development with no history of sales and manufacturing?
- Is the product currently in some type of production?
If the answer to the second question is yes and you have already established a market for the product, the decision becomes what to automate and who can develop the best automated system to best fit your specific needs.
If the product is in the design or early development stage with no track record of sales, go out and find the best standard equipment solution available that will meet your needs and build an initial manufacturing process as a foundation. Get that new product out into the marketplace to see if it is viable. Get feedback from actual customers, and incorporate their feedback on changes that will improve the product, if needed. Product sales will then support the cost of automating the production process. This will also give you a chance to see where the product itself or process steps might need subtle design changes enable a proper fit into automation.
Know Your Goals and Priorities for Automating
Whether you are moving from a manual or semi-automated operation or revamping, adding to, or updating an existing automation line, you need clear goals. Some include:
- reduce production time
- eliminate of human error
- improve product quality and reliability
- add specialized handling steps
- add automated inspection
- integrate automated packaging
- specialized automation such as within a clean room or other custom need
The list can go on and on. But you need established goals to discuss with an automation provider. Not, that reducing cost is not on this list. That is because if any line runs smoother, faster, more efficiently and produces a reliable product every time, it naturally reduces production cost and adds to product sales.
However, the cost of automating a process is not cheap. While the results will give you a beneficial ROI, you still want to make sure that the money invested in your automation will actually bring that ROI within a reasonable amount of time. That’s why you need to do the right things at the start, before jumping into automating any processes. Automation is not some magical bandage that will suddenly make a bad product good or a faulty process suddenly successful.