Automation is a major focus of the Chinese government and many manufacturers here, but can it really reduce costs..?
Renaud will answer the questions: “Is Investing In Process Automation In The Factory Worth It?” and “What are the best practices to follow to smoothly transition into more automation?”
Without a doubt, increasingly automating processes features highly in the future of manufacturing, but there are right and wrong ways to implement automation. Also, while replacing multiple staff with one or two pieces of equipment may seem financially astute, there are numerous ‘hidden costs’ to machinery that sales reps won’t tell you. In this episode, we’ll dispel the myths surrounding automation and also provide a solid blueprint to follow in order to improve your process efficiency and start implementing automation in a steady and methodical way.
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Here’s a summary of key sections of this episode:
✅ What is process automation in the factory?
✅ Are Chinese manufacturers guilty of rushing into automation too quickly?
✅ The benefits & drawbacks of automation in the factory:
Benefits that affect equipment costs positively
- Lower costs of equipment in comparison to employing numerous operators over time (labor cost/social insurance/holidays/etc)
- Equipment reduces defects over operators (human error) and removes the need for expensive rework
- Reducing management overheads due to having fewer staff to manage
Drawbacks that affect equipment costs negatively
- Interest on capital expenditure in China is high
- Specialized staff required to run and maintain the equipment could cost more than the operators being replaced by the equipment
- The cost of getting the machinery to working and up-to-speed
- Maintenance – a large driver of costs (parts, downtime, training skilled staff, etc) and really important for highly automated factories (listen to more about preventive maintenance here)
- Automation leads to higher MOQs which rules out smaller orders which can be more profitable
- Lead times could be reduced by equipment, but often it’s not the case
✅ Talking about Toyota’s approach to automation to weed out DDD processes
✅ The wrong way to implement automation
Before implementing full automation, you should try…
✅ Re-engineering human operations – use process engineers to re-engineer human operations to reduce ‘waste’ and increase the seconds per minute that they are physically working on transforming each piece, for example, through improving the layout of and logistics around the production line and providing enhanced training to the operators and their group leader.
✅ Semi-automating some of the operations – the next step is to implement some semi-automation to assist operators to become even more productive, for example, a machine that delivers a part into place for them to transform and then ejects it, reducing their time spent not transforming parts.
✅ What happens if an automated line goes down – hint: it’s not good
✅ What to be mindful of if your supplier tells you that they’re implementing automation
✅ Renaud’s blueprint to implementing automation smoothly –
- Assess whether re-engineering human processes more valuable than implementing tools for you at this point in time (it is often the case)
- Start with semi-automation to make the operators’ routines more efficient. This also familiarizes your staff with working with and maintaining machines.
- Set up an automated pilot line that is insulated from the other lines.
- As you go along, more and more processes can be automated step-by-step, and this will be accompanied by a reduction in staff required.
✅ Automation is NOT just robots – Michel Baudin wrote in this blog post that PLCs (programmable logic controllers) outsell industrial robots by millions to one each year.
Additional content related to today’s episode…
- Chinese Manufacturer Selection: Beware of Excessive Automation
- The Right Way To Approach Production Automation
- Will You Save Money With Process Automation In Your Factory?
What are your thoughts on implementing automation in your Chinese/Asian factory? Let us know by leaving a comment, please.
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