Written by:  Jim English

In the early 1990’s, Toyota transformed manufacturing with its innovative production philosophies.  At the core of the “Toyota Way” were two revolutionary principles: “Just-in-time” (JIT) or “lean” manufacturing and “Autonomation” (Automation with a human touch).  These principles soon became industry standards for many manufacturing facilities.  While JIT practices have become routine, advances in automation continue as existing technologies evolve and new technologies are developed.

So why automate? What are the benefits?  Most production facilities will have a myriad of specific benefits that justify their automation.  However, typically these benefits are largely founded in four basic tenets of the automation evaluation: Production output (increased); Quality (improved); Operating costs (lower); and Worker safety (enhanced).

Increased production is always an automation target.  Since automation can work unattended around the clock without breaks or fatigue, it inherently can produce more product in less time when compared to a human worker.  Simply put, more production results higher sales of your product and more revenue towards the bottom line.

Improved quality is a byproduct of automated manufacturing.  Since automation is programmed to do the same task the same way every time, the variability of human workers is removed from the process.  The outcome is a better controlled and a more predictable manufacturing process resulting in fewer non-conforming products, less waste, and more compliant production.

While the cost of automation implementation can be significant, a corresponding reduction in operating costs quickly offsets this investment.  Automation can replace multiples of human workers while performing its tasks with increased effectiveness and efficiency.  The automated factory doesn’t care if the lights are on, or if its hot or cold, it performs with precision regardless of its environment.

Automation increases worker safety.  By safeguarding human workers from hazardous processes and operations, workplace injuries are significantly reduced.  Human workers typically accept automation as another tool in their arsenal and embrace the added safety its brings to the workplace.

Ultimately, the benefits of automation better position your products in the marketplace with lowered cost of production and quicker deliveries.  Being a step ahead of your competition is critical to the growth and health of any business.  Automation should be considered in your business plan to gain that advantage.

So how much automation is enough? Or too much? Or too little?  That’s really specific to your manufacturing processes and overall business goals.  Tesla CEO Elon Musk envisions a fully automated automotive factory operated by several expert technicians.  Materials are received at one end of the building and assembled cars shipped out the other.  In between, essentially a “hands off” approach with speed and precision like no other automotive assembly plant.

With automation, the possibilities are endless.

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