Why Automate?

By IBT Inc

August 02, 2012

Supply Chain

For manufacturing executives, improvement of the process and productivity is a constant goal. To get more – better, faster, cheaper – is to help the organization’s key measure: the bottom line.

There are various ways to improve productivity: getting more output from the same input is one model. Getting the same output from less input is another. The major coup, however, is to get more output from less input. This gives the manager a double hit in the profit column and is the real and true measure of successful manufacturing management.

However, getting more is easier to say than to do. And getting more from less is particularly challenging.

Well-run manufacturing plants are constantly working at keeping the ball rolling towards greater efficiency. So, the notion of getting big productivity boosts is not a foreign or new idea. However, without making leaps of thinking – so as to look at the problem through different eyes, or to seek solutions in different ways – it is hard to truly make great breakthroughs.

This is where automation can play a big role in helping move the results to the next level.

Engineers will tell you that automation does not just mean making more stuff. It can also improve quality, increase repeatability, lower cycle time and have a significant effect on labor costs.

The other side of the coin is that automation is, by its very nature, going to require significant alterations to the way things are being done. This can cause a dislocation and require a great deal of close attention, at least for a little while. But, in the long run, automation of any sort has generally paid for itself, and then some, especially when the transition is done correctly.

Like anything else worthwhile, achieving the positive results of automation come with a price tag beyond just the dollars and cents investment. The organization must be willing to invest time, energy, experience, critical thinking, and an open mind to view and review the current arrangement.

This can be further complicated by the departure into what may be radically new territory for the plant people involved.

After all, one can recognize that the way things are came about through a long and evolutionary process. The people on site have at least partial “ownership” of the current system. To recognize that it is not as it should be is, perhaps, to be critical of the people who created it.

Another possible problem is that automation involves the use of new technologies. Since technology has been changing so quickly, it is very hard for any busy plant operating team to be fully on top of the situation. They may not realize: what can be done; why it should be done; how it can be done; and how to calculate the investments and payouts.

As in any complicated situation, it never hurts to bring in a specialist. In the case of plant automation, there is a team of skilled specialists as close as the telephone: the team at IBT.

With a fully developed concentration on automation at all levels, IBT is prepared to bring an almost awesome collection of resources to any manufacturing situation.

From the branch level to the engineering department at corporate headquarters, the IBT organization has been well informed and instructed in the whys and wherefores of automation. One of the things that they have learned, over time, is that the problem isn’t necessarily what it appears to be. Looking at a plant situation, it is possible to fix one snag, only to realize that another situation – either upstream or downstream from the fix point – is also a contributing factor.

There are ways to guard against this, and one of them is to look thoroughly and question extensively.

It sometimes seems like one of the things IBT people like to do most is ask questions.

But asking these questions is important because the first step in getting the proper results is to fully understand the “problem” and all of its implications and complications. With this information in place, the IBT team and the customer team can thoroughly and correctly determine what needs to be dealt with and what types of outcomes are possible.