Top 3 Reasons Automation Projects Fail

PostedMonday, July 23, 2018 at 1:13 PM

Top 3 Reasons Automation Projects Fail

Safety violations, missed deadlines, cost overruns, impossible to maintain hardware and software, decommissioned systems gathering dust in a corner – all examples of what can happen to poorly executed automation projects.  Fiascos like these are the stuff that keep CEOs and Program Managers awake at night.  After many years of experience working with end users and system integrators we’ve learned that there are best practices that can help businesses avoid these pitfalls.

It’s complicated. The automation industry is large a there are many layers of suppliers and developers. As technologies advance and production costs climb, automation continues to permeate new industries at a growing pace.  While the net effect is positive, it seems that for every success story there is a project that failed.  The successful ones avoid these three things: unrealistic expectations, lack of understanding of the current process, and poor partner selection.

Unrealistic Expectations

A gut check on the reasons for automation is important. It has to be more than “robots are cool” and “your competitors are automating”. Increasing throughput, improving quality, and ensuring safety while reducing labor cost and footprint are all valid reasons to consider automation. 

Setting realistic expectations requires defining the metrics from the beginning including:

  • Schedule and Project Milestones
  • Engineering and Equipment Lead Time
  • Available funding – Budget
  • Payback Period – ROI

System attributes need to be understood and clearly defined. Examples might be:

  • Scalability
  • Flexibility
  • Facility Changes
  • Manufacturing Risk
  • Technology Risk
  • Compatibility with existing systems/processes
  • Packing Materials Design Change
  • Material Flow
  • Re - Occurring Schedule and Costs
  • Product Re-Qualification
  • Waste Bi-product or Material Disposal

Lack of Understanding the Current Process

Most companies don’t have a good handle on their process. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve toured an assembly line and asked the operator’s questions about their job tasks and how different it was form their work instructions. They do it because, that’s how the materials come in or it makes their job easier, etc.

Without deep analysis the information never makes it back to the manufacturing team and ultimately, can lead to a missed step in the design process.

Where do you start? Walk the floor and ask questions

Map it – Task by Task – Product, People and Data - You need to know how materials come in and how it leaves – inputs and outputs

Multiple Tools – Process Flow charts (Inputs/Outputs), Value Stream Mapping (VA/NVA/Waste), or Spaghetti (Non Linear Tracing)  etc. – Pick One that works for you – If anything this will allow you to review all of your operations and their efficiency

Things to Consider:

  • Product Mix - How Many Final Assemblies?
  • Number of Sub- Components per Final Assembly
  • Number of Processes per Final Assembly
  • Number of Operators
  • Type of Equipment
  • Cycle Time
  • Current System or Line Throughput = Baseline
  • Current Quality Numbers (Cpk, Ppk, Scrap, Rework)
  • Footprint

Poor Partner Selection

Most companies are reluctant to take on automation projects in house for very good reason.  Selecting the right partner is important.

When considering an integrator, ask yourself about their capabilities, time and resources, application experience, and safety design expertise. The best automation solution should embrace and make use of your in-house expertise, not ignore or replace it. It is tough to find a company that knows as much about your processes as you. When seeking automation help, find a company that appreciates and expects your in-house knowledge to be part of the solution.

Look for an integrator that has your best interest in mind, not just one that is simply pushing a product or system that may not suit you. The most important thing should be what is best suited for your needs. Find an automation partner that can work alongside you, lead when expected, and always let the facts speak for themselves.

Qualifying Criteria:

  1. Trust
  2. Business Stability
  3. Proposal
  4. Application Experience
  5. Engineering Capabilities
  6. Program Management
  7. Service and Technical Support
  8. Spare Parts
  9. Safety
  10. Training

Pay attention to these three potential failure points and proceed confidently in your first (or next) automation project.

About Applied Manufacturing Technologies (AMT).  AMT's experienced team of engineers provide creative solutions for any and all robotic automation challenges without a product or hardware agenda. This allows us to offer unique and unbiased automation solutions based on your goals. Through the AMT Advantage, you will receive the highest quality products and installation from the most intelligent minds in the industry. As an Automation Solutions Integrator for over 25 years, we have the unique ability to engage with a manufacturer at any point in their process.  At AMT, we have successfully built a company of relevant automation robotics technologies under one roof with a mastery of knowledge and abilities that enriches our customers' experiences. With over 5,000 successfully executed automation projects worldwide, we will bring the same drive and ingenuity to your company. Let us show you how!

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Craig Salvalaggio Chief Operating Officer Applied Manufacturing Technologies Orion charter Township, MI
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