Since nearly the beginning of time, humans have used automation to drive increased productivity and results. The ancient Greeks implemented the first recorded instance of automation by using water to power clocks. Automation at scale came in the 18th century, with the introduction of automated windmills, looms, and mills. In 1785, the world saw its first fully automated production process in a flour mill.
Of course, the impact and benefits of automation have advanced at breakneck speed since then. The Industrial Revolution in the 19th century was powered by automation. So too was the rise of the automotive, aerospace, and technology industries through the 20th century.
Today, automation has the power to transform nearly every facet of manufacturing. The combination of automation, artificial intelligence, and software is a powerful one, and it could completely transform the way your business operates.
Despite all the promise offered by software and artificial intelligence, humans still hold one key advantage:
the ability to innovate.
In recent years, you’ve likely used some form of technology-powered automation to improve facets of your business. Maybe you’re considering introducing automation into your packaging process. That could be a smart decision. An automated packaging process can reduce labor costs, improve quality and consistency, and boost your bottom line.
Not all forms of automation are right for every packaging process, however. Automated systems can vary greatly. They’re often custom-engineered for specific needs and objectives. What’s right for one manufacturer may not be right for you.
Here at Deufol, we have extensive experience helping manufacturers and industrial companies implement custom automated packaging processes specifically for their objectives. We’ve seen the mistakes companies commonly make as they plan their automation project, especially in the planning phase. Below are four common mistakes. If you can avoid these, you’ll improve your chances of meeting your automation goals.
1. Eliminating too much human involvement in the process
Is there such a thing as eliminating too much labor as a result of automation? At first glance, the answer may seem to be a clear and resounding no. After all, the whole point of automation is to reduce your reliance on manual labor.
However, depending on your products, needs, and demands, it could be possible that you would benefit from some level of human involvement. For instance, your packaging may vary greatly due to customer demands, shipping requirements, or even marketing efforts. Automation works best when the output is consistent. If your packaging varies, it might be more efficient to automate only certain aspects of your process and still maintain some level of manual input.
Also, despite all the promise offered by software and artificial intelligence, humans still hold one key advantage: the ability to innovate. When you have people involved in the process, they have the opportunity to identify areas of improvement and develop new ideas.
For example, in our facility, we follow a Kaizen philosophy of continuous improvement. Team members regularly hold pulse meetings to track progress toward objectives, correct issues, and implement strategies to improve. Your automated equipment can’t have those conversations. Only people can. If you take people out of the process altogether, you may lose future growth and innovation.
2. Investing an excessive amount of upfront capital
Any automation project comes with some level of required capital. Equipment costs money. Software costs money. Robots cost money. You should expect to invest a substantial amount into your automation effort.
However, not all automation costs are equal. A fully-automated process requires a greater capital investment than a semi-automated process. You may have some tasks in your process in which automation won’t generate justifiable cost savings. Other tasks may be better left to employees than machines.
Don’t assume that a costly full-automation project is your only option. A knowledgeable and experienced packaging consultant should be able to engineer and build a solution specific to your objectives. A semi-automated process could help you realize cost savings and also preserve capital.
3. Forgetting about growth and scale
One of the biggest challenges in implementing a packaging automation project is developing a solution that meets both current needs and future ones. Your volume levels may be very different in the future. One new, big customer could ramp up production levels. If that happens, a fully-automated process could be most effective.
However, there’s also the possibility that your volume won’t significantly increase. Perhaps a semi-automated process is most cost-efficient today. If your output doesn’t increase, a fully-automated process could be a waste of capital.
You can’t predict the future. So what’s the solution? An experienced packaging engineer should be able to recommend a progressive, phased automation solution. That’s a strategy in which tasks are only automated as you need them. You start with a process that has little automation and then gradually introduce more automation as your production increases. That helps you preserve capital and not commit to a project that could be more extensive than you actually need.
4. Not considering ongoing maintenance
Obviously, automation is built around the idea of leveraging machines and technology. Anyone who has spent any time in the manufacturing or industrial worlds knows that machines and technology require maintenance and support. The only way to maximize your ROI from your equipment is to maintain them.
While your automated process will eliminate a substantial amount of labor costs, it will also create new maintenance costs. Your equipment will likely need regular maintenance. They could require repairs from time to time. You may need helpdesk support for software used to manage the automation process.
Be sure to include these costs in your project budget. If you don’t anticipate these costs, you may be disappointed with your ROI and your project’s results.
Automation can be a powerful solution to reign in your packaging costs and improve quality and consistency. However, it’s important to take time to evaluate your needs and a broad range of options. Not all automation is the same. Work with a packaging engineer who can help you identify the right solution for you.