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Automation for Small Manufacturers – Pitfalls at the start

Owner

August 24, 2023

The wave of automation has swept across industries, promising increased efficiency, reduced overheads, and amplified production capabilities. Small manufacturers, navigating the challenges of competition and scalability, find automation a potential ally. However, the journey to effective automation has overwhelming challenges. Recognizing these challenges, understanding their implications, and crafting strategies to navigate them are fundamental for successful automation project execution.

  1. The Crucial Role of the Automation Team Leader

A successful automation project often hinges on the person helming it. Believing that the Automation Team Leader can juggle this immense responsibility alongside their regular duties is a grave miscalculation.

Automation projects are multifaceted. They require meticulous planning, comprehensive understanding, and the ability to foresee challenges. Stretching the leader thin, with divided attention, compromises the project’s integrity and undermines the chances of success. Top management of manufacturing companies should recognize the demanding nature of this role and allocate resources, time, and training to ensure the leader can focus solely on the automation initiative.

  1. The Importance of Direct Communication Channels

Effective communication is the linchpin of any successful organizational change. In the context of automation, this becomes even more pivotal. Armed with insights into the project’s nuances, the Automation Team Leader should have direct access to top-tier decision-makers.

Burying the leader under multiple layers of bureaucracy not only hampers swift decision-making but can also dilute the essence of the information as it traverses through the hierarchy. Top management can ensure the project stays on course by providing open, direct communication channels, even when challenges arise.

  1. Valuing On-ground Insights

Automation is more than just a top-down approach. It thrives on ground-level insights. The workers on the shop floor, the personnel in manufacturing and operations, carry a wealth of experiential knowledge. Their involvement ensures that automation strategies are rooted in the day-to-day realities of the business.

Manufacturers must foster an inclusive environment where feedback is encouraged. The insights of those closest to the processes become critical inputs into the automation project blueprint.

  1. Strategically Selecting the Initial Automation Project

The adage, “Well begun is half done,” resonates when choosing the first automation project. Two common pitfalls to be wary of are:

  • Over-reliance on External Recommendations: While third-party consultants bring a fresh perspective, they sometimes need more depth or nuance. Manufacturers must balance external advice with rigorous in-house evaluations to choose the most appropriate project.
  • Automating Complex Processes First: Diving headfirst into automating the most intricate process can be counterproductive. Such endeavors, laden with challenges, can demoralize the team if they encounter roadblocks. A better approach is to select a project that balances complexity and feasibility, setting a positive precedent for subsequent projects.
  1. Outsourcing: A Double-Edged Sword

Outsourcing components of the automation project can offer expertise and reduce the burden on in-house teams. But it’s vital to understand its potential drawbacks:

  • Ambiguity in Accountability: Without clearly defined roles and expectations, issues can lead to protracted blame games between in-house teams and external partners.
  • Potential Quality Compromises: The bid to be competitive might push third parties to provide cost-effective but possibly sub-par solutions.
  • Bridging the Knowledge Gap: External integrators may need an intricate understanding of a manufacturer’s unique processes, products, or cultural nuances. Manufacturers must ensure a seamless knowledge transfer to bridge this gap.
  1. Emphasizing In-house Technological Proficiency

Automation solutions are only as effective as the people operating them. Manufacturers must invest in training programs, ensuring their teams are well-versed with the new systems and technologies.

  1. The Human Element of Automation

While the technical aspects of automation are paramount, the human element is more fundamental. Manufacturers must anticipate resistance, manage apprehensions, and ensure a smooth transition for their workforce.

Conclusion

For small manufacturers, automation isn’t just a technological upgrade; it’s a transformative journey. Manufacturers can harness the power of automation by understanding the challenges, proactively addressing them, and ensuring a holistic approach, paving the way for sustainable growth and enhanced operational efficiency.

Rahul will be talking at Fabtech about Small Manufacturer Automation Challenges and other topics with case studies.  Register with Fabtech to learn more.

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