Time to Automate? Top Considerations for any company.
Has your company reached that point? The point where the processes you were once so proud of now seem out of date? The point where production can no longer keep up with demand? The point where the inefficiencies of your current procedures are suddenly much more apparent?
This is the point where automation is necessary. If your company has reached the place where any of the above are true, congratulations, this is an exciting time. You have the opportunity to abandon your previous processes and adopt new, automated workflows that can help your company continue its upward trajectory and keep moving forward.
Making the jump to automation is a big, groundbreaking step and this whitepaper can be your guide, providing you a comprehensive list of considerations for your company as you move toward automated solutions. There are plenty of decisions to make, but if you consider all the variables, your newly automated processes will be worth it.
Labor-related concerns are often the most common consideration when researching automated opportunities, so it makes sense to start with them.
These truths are playing out across the market, as data from the U.S. Department of Labor shows that between 1987 and 2010, labor in U.S. manufacturing declined 33.3%. At the same time, output climbed 45.6% and total productivity rose an astounding 114.8%. When it comes to manufacturing, companies are doing more with less.
This is the power of automation. If your company operates some or all of its manufacturing overseas, the ever-increasing cost of labor in developing countries can also be a powerful reason for you to embrace an automated manufacturing process.
Automation will allow you to do more with less staff, but that doesn’t mean you’re looking at layoffs in your future. That’s been the worry about AI and automation. It’s the “robots are coming for our jobs” fear that’s been rumbling out there for the past few years. But it’s just not the case. While some jobs will go away, others will emerge.
According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), machines and algorithms in the workplace are expected to create 133 million new jobs by 2022, even as they displace 75 million. Doing the math, machines are expected to create 58 million new jobs.
The mistake many companies are making as they prepare for the bots to invade the workplace is anticipating laying off a wide swath of the workforce while hiring people with different skills for the new roles. But, as any HR pro will tell you, that’s costly and time-consuming. Instead, as the WEF recommends, it should be about reskilling and retraining the workers you already have.
Retention of employees is a key factor here, because, in this tight job market, it’s tough to attract and hire skilled people to do the job. If you’re poised to ramp up production and can’t find people to fill those jobs, you already know it. Automation may be a solution for
finding those people, too. This is a common challenge for companies based in small towns, but with a nationwide unemployment rate of only 3.8%, companies in communities of every size are experiencing the challenges associated with finding and retaining quality employees. Automation can help with this process by allowing your company to automate certain procedures and allocate staff resources to the select areas where you need them most.
Whole or piecemeal automation?
Will you do it all or a small part?
Many companies throw off the idea of automation because they simply don’t have the budget to automate their entire process or they don’t understand how certain parts of the process could be accomplished through automation.
This is a mistake.
While automating the entire process at once may be possible and make sense for some companies, most will benefit from exploring piecemeal automation installations. This allows you to automate certain facets of your production or even one piece at a time over a prolonged
If you decide a piecemeal automation upgrade makes the most sense for your company, your next step is to determine where your first implementations of automation should take place. Because of automation’s reputation for increasing volume, many companies naturally focus their attention in areas where increased growth will be the most beneficial. This is not a bad strategy and it may work well for your company to do the same.
You may choose instead to spend your automation capital on solutions that improve a process or reduce the risk of workplace injury. (More on that later.) Consider every facet of your operation and identify the areas where immediate automation makes the most sense. A trained automation implementation expert can help you in these goals.
What is your automation timeline?
While upgrading your facility through piecemeal additions allows you to add automation capabilities on your own timeline, it pays to know what that timeline is beforehand.
Most companies plan for their needs one to two years out, as market changes make future planning overly difficult and often unrealistic. Depending on your industry, however, your market may dictate that your planning windows be significantly shorter than that.
But how can you expect a machine to provide you value for 10 to 15 years when your industry is constantly changing? That brings us to technology.
Many of the market’s best automated solutions today prioritize flexibility and machines with upgrade capabilities. This allows your company to make piecemeal solution upgrades to your machines as new technology is introduced or as your needs change. These upgrades could include the ability to add new feeder arms or even make software updates.
When considering your automated options, make future upgrades a part of the conversation with your solutions provider. Your company will be better suited by investing in a solution that can grow and adapt as your needs change over the next 10 to 15 years.
How can automation solve quality control concerns?
Quality control improvements can easily be seen as one of the focal points of implementing automation. The key lies in understanding how automation can improve quality control in your facility. Like your piecemeal automation initiatives, it pays to be proactive in researching quality control options. Look for machines that can address specific challenges in your process. If one aspect of your operation is generating far too much waste, automation is your chance to correct that.
Scanners and sensors, for example, are adept at monitoring thousands of individual pieces each day to ensure quality and, in addition to working more quickly than human quality inspectors, they don’t tire or get bored after three hours — a time when many companies notice a drop-off in the results generated by human employees.
Lastly, don’t underestimate the importance of quality control to your company’s overall health. The expenses of your quality assurance process can span far beyond increased waste on your manufacturing floor. The act of having to unload an entire truck or receive shipment returns from distributors can be harmful to your bottom line and devastating to your reputation.
How will automation affect your workflow?
This is more of a big-picture question. After all, your company will likely invest in automated solutions to address a particular workflow objective, but the changes created by your newly automated solutions could far exceed your initial goals.
Here are a couple ways that could happen:
Expanding your production is one of the most common reasons companies invest in automated solutions, but it’s worth noting that your automated solution may allow you to expand your volume beyond what you expected or even hoped for. This may allow you to eliminate an entire shift if your volume supersedes your demand and if you have the demand and the processes in place to handle your increased output, the benefits to your company grow exponentially.
For example, an employee once responsible for manually performing a task could now be assigned to oversee the operation of the machine instead. Add training for this employee to handle small repair needs on the machine and you could save your company future repair expenses while giving the employee valuable skills they can use to springboard their career to better compensation, additional options and longer tenure.
AN END TO REPETITIVE TASKS
In addition to increasing production rate, one of the areas where automation really shines is in eliminating the human quotient from menial, tedious tasks. These routine tasks may be necessary but they can also be fatiguing, boring or even irksome for your employees. All of which can hamper employee satisfaction and, ultimately, affect the product. Automating these tasks keeps employees happy with their roles and ensures this necessary job is done right each and every time.
Governed under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), safety-related concerns are a focal point for all companies. A safety incident does more than simply expose your company to worker’s compensation and potential OSHA inspections, it also hampers overall morale and exposes you to the risk of losing good employees.
Automating particular processes can remove employees from dangerous situations as well as prevent long-term injuries such as carpal tunnel or foot and back issues. If you have even one potential safety incident that can be prevented by adopting an automated solution, it’s worth a look.
What future benefits are you overlooking?
Let’s think big picture. Have you considered how investing in an automated solution could benefit your company as a whole? The short answer here is naturally through greater output, efficiency, etc. But what other benefits can automation have for your company? What benefits exist that you have not yet considered?
Here’s an example and, once again, we’ll focus on your employees. Investing in automated solutions shows your employees you’re committed to moving the business forward and giving them the tools they need to be successful. This will motivate them to speak up and offer suggestions for ways to improve the company even further. Those retention concerns we discussed earlier in this whitepaper? They decrease when employees know their company is invested in success for the long term and committed to the people that work for it.
FINDING THE RIGHT TECHNOLOGY SOLUTIONS TO AUTOMATE YOUR PROCESSES
Wholesale or piecemeal, planning for the moment or for the future, no matter how automation fits into your company’s plans, MGS can help. A global leader in the design and manufacture of state-of-the-art packaging automation solutions, MGS can work with your company to create the solution you need to move your company forward in a productive, automated way.