Are You Ready For Automation?

By Scott Hennie, MH Engineered Solutions President

Automation is stupid!  No – the idea of automation is not stupid, the equipment and tools used for automation are “stupid”.  Robots, manipulators, conveyors, sortation, etc. will do what you tell it to do – exactly what you tell it to do!

We have had many conversations with clients centered around automation – and the overwhelming perception is that they believe a piece of automation equipment can be “dropped into place” where an operator and some work aids are currently performing an operation – and they will get the same or better results.  Maybe!

Automation LOVES consistency, repetition, repeatability and structure.  Automation cannot make INTUITIVE decisions.  Automation performs tasks and executes orders that are given.  Those tasks are performed around a set of rules and expected environmental conditions.  When the rules aren’t met or the conditions aren’t presented as programmed, Automation Stops.

As you evaluate your current processes, look for a few simple signs to help you evaluate your Readiness for Automation:

  • Are operators (people) simply executing tasks, or are they making choices/decisions on how to execute the task?

  • Are operators manipulating product/items prior to placing or putting them in the required positions?

  • Is product consistent in size, shape and form?

  • Are operators constantly adjusting equipment, materials, etc.?

  • Do operators have to “dig” through items to get to the item they need?

  • Is the targeted process truly consistent, repeatable, repetitive and structured?

This simple evaluation will help you determine if you are ready for automation or if there are areas in your process that you need to “clean up” before you entertain automation.

Look and observe with a keen eye.  Bring in a neutral party to observe and document your current processes – including all the areas that operators make intuitive decisions.  Refine and update your process to the point that it is truly consistent, repeatable, repetitive and structured.

Then – look for ways to automate or mechanize the tasks and let the people be used for more value-added processes in your operation.