Is Your Production Line Ready for Automation? | Automation.com

Is Your Production Line Ready for Automation?

Is Your Production Line Ready for Automation?

By Graham Nicholson, Phoenix Wrappers

The addition of any element of automation – whether it’s the first or the 100th – is a big step for any production line. How do you know it’s the right decision? There are financial, production, space and manpower considerations to keep in mind.

In my specialty of pallet stretch wrappers, we often help production line managers take the leap from years of laborious hand wrapping to a semi-automatic or automatic stretch wrapper. The change is often difficult, but once implemented they never look back. For the life of the machine, they reap the benefits an automated element can bring (i.e. efficiency, increased productivity and safety, cost savings).

Automation allows companies to grow, to meet challenges and keep pace with increasing demands. In short, automation can change the way a business operates, but it should be done with careful deliberation.

Let’s walk through some of the key elements to consider before adding automation to your production line.

The Big Picture (and Smaller Details)

Taking a look at the big picture is the essential first step in determining your present and future needs. It’s also the best way to uncover areas of inefficiency that may or may not be solved with automation. However, it’s just as important not to overlook all of the little details along the way. Let me explain…

The “big picture” is an examination of overall goals and trends. It’s a high level look at the production line, yearly outputs, and financial health. Automation is an investment in the future, so consideration must be given to both production and revenue projections. Will automation give a return on investment (ROI) and how long will that take? We’ll talk more about ROI later on.  

As the saying goes, the devil is in the details, so be sure to scrutinize each step of the production line. If you’re a manager, meet with staff to get into the nitty gritty of how the production line works presently. Ask a lot of questions. There might be some steps employees take over the course of the production line that even the most attentive manager may not be fully aware of. If you’re considering changing the way they perform daily tasks by increasing automation, it’s vital to include employees in the process.

Start your evaluation at the beginning of the production line. Let’s say a distribution center is falling behind on its daily orders. It’s clear the current process isn’t meeting goals. There are multiple solutions: paying overtime to current employees, adding another shift, hiring more employees, or adding automated elements. What’s the most cost effective solution? An end-to-end examination of the production process will illuminate problem areas and the best solutions.

Production (Present and Future)

Because it involves capital investment, consideration of automation often comes when a production line simply can’t keep up with current production demand. There’s no right time to add automated elements, but it is a smart idea to keep it in mind and stay proactive. Ask yourself and your team questions like, is there a better way to do this? How are our competitors getting the job done? What kind of technology exists for this particular job? It’s important to keep in mind that your company is probably not the only company to experience the particular challenge at hand. Even other industries might have dealt with similar challenges. Explore different solutions to find the best fit for your company.

Production is one of the key justifications for increased automation. But, it’s also a long-term investment. Take the long term approach. Is current production sustainable and is it on an upward trend? Will current processes handle any seasonal fluctuations? Base your analysis and conclusions on concrete data.

Space Requirements

Automation takes up space and will likely involve at least some reconfiguration of the production line. This is a consideration once you’ve identified what type of automation is needed. Does your current space have enough square footage? Work with potential vendors to determine the space required and is there flexibility in terms of customization, if your warehouse or particular requirements necessitate it.

The Capital Investment

Automation will assuredly increase productivity and efficiency to the production line. While results might be evident soon after implementation, it takes time to fully realize a return on the capital investment. An ROI equation should consider more than straightforward line items, such as overtime pay, additional revenue or savings in product or maintenance costs. Increased safety, competitive edge, worker productivity, and other intangible items add value to the overall process and environment. Take those into consideration as well.

Find the Right Solution

Automation is not to be taken lightly; not only is it a significant capital investment, but also an asset that contributes to greater goals for production, safety and profits. By utilizing internal data and resources and being clear about goals and the true value of adding automation, the right solution will naturally follow. Change – even improvement – has its challenges, for sure, but if due diligence is done, you’ll never look back.  

Author Description: Graham Nicholson is the sales executive for Phoenix Wrappers and has more than 25 years of experience in the stretch wrapping industry.

 

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