To remain competitive in an evolving industry, manufacturers are turning to automation. But where should companies begin?
Chad Blair, president of RT Engineering Corporation, compares automating a facility to writing a book. “Manufacturers need to understand what the ultimate story looks like so that as they’re writing an individual chapter, it makes sense in the context of the rest of the book. You can’t solve any one problem without a way to integrate it with the total solution.”
When automating, companies should involve their production, maintenance, engineering and other personnel in the process.
“Creating a successful piece of automation equipment requires a true partnership between the people on the shop floor and the management team,” Blair said. “Everyone should be involved at some stage of the development in order to make sure they have everything that they want.”
Once ready to come up with a game plan, manufacturers should consider the following:
- Have an in-house expert or reliable automation supplier to help integrate and use new machines quickly.
- Employ as few machine varieties as possible to simplify use and limit the amount of PLC languages and codes in-house experts will need to know. This will also limit failure modes and make troubleshooting easier.
- Efficient automation setups will allow companies to collect data in real time and share it throughout the workforce. With this ongoing stream of information, engineers can predict and eliminate a mistake before it happens.
- Human-Machine Interface (HMI) technology can further simplify a system and save time in operator training, allowing them access to automation systems through an app on their preferred smart devices
Blair encourages companies thinking of offshoring not to be put off by the short-term costs of automating, but to consider the long-term benefits of an efficient automation process. “Raw material costs are largely the same so the only variable left is labor. If you can reduce the costs by improving efficiency, then you’re on a level playing field with competitors.”
RT Engineering Corporation has provided automation and industrial solutions since 1972. To learn more about how RT Engineering Corporation can help in the automation process, continue reading on ENGINEERING.com.
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