Robotic automation can reduce waste, free up human capital, decrease costs and provide your company a competitive advantage. However, robotic implementations can be challenging with no guarantee of these promises. There are some critical questions you should ask yourself before implementing robots, but first let’s define the two branches of automation for manufacturers.
What is Robotic Process Automation? (RPA)
RPA is implementing software to execute mundane and repetitive manual tasks. If there is a logical step to performing a task, a bot will be able to replicate it. Some of the common implementations include:
- Bill of Material Generation
- ERP Management
- Demand and Supply Planning
- Purchase Order Management
- Workflow Management
- Invoice Management
- Accounting and Finance
- Report Automation
- Data Acquisition
This form of automation can appear in a variety of ways, such as:
- Specialized machines designed for a single purpose such as packaging, bottling or other functions
- Robotic Arms
- Mobile robots to automate material handling
- Machine vision to automate quality inspections
Even though the applications can be vastly different, all these automation solutions take a mundane and repetitive task and perform it in place of humans. They take the robot out of the human and allow them to perform tasks of greater difficulty and value. To be successful, you should consider the following:
- How will implementing this automated solution impact your employees?
- What training or skill sets may I need to add to properly use and maintain this automated solution?
- How can you ensure your team that automation will benefit them? (we have another blog in this series that answers this exact question in more detail)
- What is the return on investment?
- Will I need to pay for training?
- What will I do with the human capital that gets freed up by this project?
- How can I utilize this automation to help other areas of my business? How can I use this automation to:
- Improve my customer service
- Increase my ability to meet customer demand
- Empower my employees to create and innovate
If you are implementing automation for the first time, it is a shift in your culture that will affect your employees and your business. It is critical to implement correctly and with a lean mindset. You do not want to try to remove waste with a solution riddled with more waste! You also don’t want to take on a project too large or complex for your capabilities. It is critical for the first project to provide a positive experience so you can use it as a launching pad for further projects.
It is better to start with an MVP or “minimal viable product” – or a solution that provides just enough value to satisfy your needs but allows you to improve upon them. Starting with an MVP will allow you to be nimble and pivot early if needed.
You won’t waste time building in features you don’t need and it will also get your automation project up and running faster. It is better to implement a solution with a sub-optimal performance tomorrow than it is to work on the perfect solution that gets implemented in the far distant future.
Automation implemented tomorrow starts making you money tomorrow. Automation implemented in 6 months, might have made you some returns for 5 months if you started with a simpler, easier-to deploy MVP. Although there is much more to Lean Robotics (and I highly recommend reading the book), an MVP is one of the basic building blocks and allows you to get into the following cycle –
starting with a simple project will lower the cost of implementation. This will increase your ROI which frees up more capital for more projects. Completing more projects will increase your skills and capabilities which will make the next project easier for you to implement. The cycle continues. Your success builds upon success.
It is important to find a vendor that meets your goals. Do your research and get multiple bids. When comparing costs, the total cost of ownership should be factored into – which solution is more robust and reliable? Which vendor will provide better support, training, and maintenance? Which vendor wants to be my partner?
The final consideration for your automation project is – How will you maintain this piece of automation? Do you have the proper skills internally to manage it or do you need to set aside resources for external help? It is also important to factor in time to make improvements to your project (especially if you are following the Lean Robotics cycle)
When implemented properly automation will have a positive impact on your business, empower your employees and reduce operating costs. However, don’t skip steps and be thoughtful in your approach! Good luck and happy automating! For more information, you can do to the following resources: