Process automation involves replacing the manual process with an elementary machine that performs the work. For example, if the work to be done is a drill in a piece of wood, the first level of automation is to use an electric drill instead of a brace.
Automate the process
For months, talking with any Director to process automation, whether industrial or administrative, is a conversation that ends in a few seconds: “We have no budget.” And it does not matter if the profitability of the investment is proven, we live in a world where “Cash is King” (The treasury is the king). Profitability does not matter. There is simply no budget line, no automation. In the West, automation means investing in robots, automatisms and expensive machines. It is fundamentally a process of analysis of the return of the invested capital. For them it is an engineering process in which a sequence must be followed, the final result of which may be the elimination of labor, or not:
Automate the clamping:
At this level, we must eliminate the manual clamping for both the drill and the piece and use an automatic clamping.
Automating the stop:
At the end of the work, the tool is removed, the movement is stopped, the piece is released. This is the step that will allow the operator to leave the machine during the process with the certainty that the stop will occur in the proper way (if the drill keeps turning inside the wood, it will eventually produce a heating and burn it).
Automate the ejection:
The piece is ejected automatically without damage. Leaving the area free to load the new piece.
In this configuration, the machine automatically performs the ejection of the piece, the operator will come from the previous process with a piece in his right hand and place it with the proper precision in its support by removing the ejected piece with the left hand. You can inspect the result and walk to the next machine while changing the piece from left to right.
Automate quality inspection:
It’s time to ensure 100% quality, to use creativity to develop Poka Yokes to ensure that you can go to step 6 with the security of not automating defects.
Automate the load:
The piece will advance from a rest position to the fixation. Only when the machine is properly fixed will the process begin automatically.
If we have reached this point, passing the barrier of step 5 (ensuring 100% quality) is the time to connect one machine to the next.
Now, we have an automatic line. And what is better, which ensures 100% quality so it is not necessary for a person to continuously attend the process. In real life, this does not happen like that. If we want to automate a process, we look for a manufacturer of equipment to which we assume that he knows our process and our product perfectly. We hire you a machine that reaches step 7 and we pay for it.
The problem is that later it does not meet expectations and we end up using more people than we expected. The penalty will never cover this extra cost. Although it is difficult to generalize, my experience is that automation usually follows the following pattern:
That is to say, the great savings of Direct Labor are produced in the initial phases. The large automation costs in the final stages. What is the optimal point of automation for my problem? How far should I go? But above all, as I move forward in automation, I must remember that I must not exceed the “wall” without solving the problem of 100% quality. Returning to the question of the beginning, I may or may not automate depending on the level I want / should reach.