For manufacturers who are interested in making production more efficient and using automation to improve KPIs, integrating automation and robotics is an increasingly popular option. Choosing the perfect robot integrator is important at the start, but what happens after an automation system has been implemented?
Integrating automation is a process, not a finish line. Each project will have phases to complete and milestones to reach but integrating automation should be part of a bigger continuous improvement initiative.
Control ramp-up and optimize productivity
A professional integration team can get you up and running quickly. That’s what they do. But what happens when they walk away? The transition from commissioning and factory acceptance to letting in-house trained operators take over is critical. Pressure will be on to transition quickly, but it’s important to make sure that ongoing production is running safely and efficiently and not relying on workarounds or patches to meet KPIs.
Provide ongoing training and knowledge transfer
Only having one person who knows how a machine or system works is a risky situation. Allowing a wealth of knowledge to walk out the door as experienced workers retire or leave is another risk that’s unavoidable but also possible to mitigate. By incorporating ongoing training and knowledge transfer into a continuous improvement strategy, more workers will be skilled operators with the ability to run different pieces of equipment. One of the benefits of automation is freeing employees to do more value-added tasks. A training plan makes good on that promise, creating a flexible, skilled, valuable, engaged workforce.
Keep lines of communication open
Open communication is important at all phases of a project, but there’s a big opportunity after a new implementation to use the project as a demonstration or proof of concept for replication in other facilities or on other production lines.
A good strategy is to expand communication beyond management reports demonstrating a return on investment. Invite floor supervisors and operators to see the new automation system running and allow them to ask questions. Robot integration projects frequently meet resistance due to inaccurate assumptions and myths. The best way to convince stakeholders to buy into an automation project is to show an actual system in use and to let the people involved share what met, exceeded, and defied their expectations.
Improve overall equipment efficiency (OEE)
Properly implemented automation and analytics have huge potential to decrease downtime and improve overall equipment efficiency. The advantages of predictive maintenance are impressive. By focusing maintenance resources on machines that show warning signs of needing attention rather than swinging from the extremes of ignoring scheduled maintenance or nervously monitoring every machine, smaller fixes can be done where they’re required. Unnecessary scheduled maintenance can feel like a waste of time, but the penalty for completely ignoring maintenance is severe: failure that causes unplanned downtime.
Interpreting data and implementing predictive maintenance is an ongoing process. With fewer and fewer plants having the luxury of shutting down production for scheduled maintenance, using analytics and intelligence to keep everything running at peak efficiency is essential.
Identify issues, challenges, gaps, and problems as early as possible
Everyone wants the project to be a success and to highlight and focus on everything that’s going right. However, proper monitoring requires looking for and acknowledging opportunities for improvement. Glossing over challenges, gaps, and problems may serve a short-term “gold star” goal but isn’t a viable ongoing strategy. It’s better to expect to find some issues and to be skeptical if absolutely no problems are being identified.
After the system is up and running, stay flexible and open to optimization. Sometimes a process will be mapped out one way in the design phase but then turn out to be different than anticipated in reality. When that happens, sometimes all it takes is some additional tooling or different parts presentation to solve the issue. By acknowledging and closing these gaps, the entire production process will benefit, and the lessons learned, and knowledge gained can be transferred to the next project.
Revisit and refine the wish list
To meet deadlines and budget constraints, some requirements were likely demoted off the need-to-have list onto the nice-to-have list. Once the automated system is up and running, it’s a good time to go back to those nice-to-haves with a new perspective. Given the experience of implementing the new system, would those extra features and capabilities be worthwhile investments, or are there new, better opportunities to make additional improvements?
With an ongoing automation implementation strategy, productivity can be optimized beyond initial goals as additional improvements are identified and implemented.