Why you should choose automation

By Elumatec MD Neil Parton.

It’s obvious that if you’re producing a million identical components, automating their manufacture is sensible. If, however, your production runs are somewhat smaller, down to short runs, or fully bespoke one-off items, how much benefit will you gain from automating your processes?

It’s a question we’re often asked by those working in the industrial sector, perhaps building furniture, vehicle bodies or boats, but it’s also a fair question in glazing where an unusual request is a far-from unusual occurrence. The answer is always the same: would automation improve your overall productivity?; would it address issues such as compliance or certification?; and would it enhance profitability?

In most cases, it would. The best automated machinery is swift to set up and can be programmed off-line. Rapid cycle times and automated tool changes mean it’s equally suitable for high and low volume production.

In the current climate, automation makes more sense than ever. Businesses need to be adaptable and responsive to customer requests. They need the ability to deliver new products quickly and at the right price. They need to handle both a changed supply chain and a possibly reduced workforce that’s also having to work in new ways because of Covid. Automating some of your processes can make a big difference.

For example, the use of 3D CAD technology can allow a potential buyer to visualise the finished product long before material resources or machine time is allocated. Changes can be made before production runs, not after the first components are machined, and, of course, these benefits are even more relevant when production runs are short.

Having programmed machinery carrying out operations saves labour. It frees up time, allowing skilled workers to use their ingenuity for tasks machines cannot handle. Would you rather have your engineers cutting profiles to the correct length or have them collaborate with clients on the design and introduction of a new product or model?

If you’re buying in components because you don’t have manufacturing capacity in house, you could face limited choice, quality issues or be forced into ordering more than you need. You’ll have cash tied up in obsolete components that gather dust on your shelves. But with the right equipment, you could easily be machining the perfect quantity of the exact thing you need.

We are big fans of automation. We could probably talk all day about the benefits of our machining centres or automated saws, but it wouldn’t be right to do so without having a frank discussion about the cost. Any investment must pay its way. If you own manually operated plant that can do the job, does an upgrade to automated processing make sense?

Let’s consider that existing machine. Is it reliable? How much does it cost to maintain? How much power does it consume? Is it safe and ergonomically designed? Is it noisy, heavy on its use of tooling or lubricants? How much output can you get from it? Does its capacity hold up your processes in any way? How long does it take to set up?

That’s a lot of questions but we can sum it up: does the machine contribute or cost? If it drains your resources – time, money or patience – is there room for it within your operation?

Assuming you decide to invest in new machinery, what’s next? Won’t it be disruptive? The short answer is not if it’s planned and handled well. The important thing is to do your research. Find out which suppliers have experience in your industry. Ask your network for recommendations. Be prepared to visit existing users of any technology you’re considering. Ask how it’s worked for them and what they would do differently.

Choose a supplier you feel comfortable working with. Explain what’s challenging about your operation. Be realistic about your needs now, and positive about the future. Involve your team. Get their buy-in. Let them see the machinery investment is an opportunity for them, not a threat.

If you want your business to grow, all your resources must be used well. You need the capacity to cope with surges in demand, develop new products or train new staff. You need to be certain that your output meets agreed standards, that waste is minimised, and that even one-off bespoke jobs are cost-effective and efficient.

Automation fits the brief perfectly. It’s one of the best ways to enhance your productivity now and in the future.

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