Your packing operations are probably somewhere between fully automated and completely manual on the automation scale. Thanks in part to system integrators, automation has become common place for industry, but knowing which processes to automation, at what time, is key to your future success. Automation can be both a blessing and a significant expense.
Mike Aimone, veteran packaging integration project manager at EPIC, provides a guide for making good automation business decisions in his article currently featured on Control Engineering. His six step process starts with your dream vision and then helps you determine the most valuable and realistic automation endeavors to pursue.
Building a financial scenario you can evaluate is one of the more important decision making tools that Aimone suggests. You need to be able to look at numbers, quantifiable measures, when facing automation decisions. Whether its you, or your chosen group of system integrators who builds the scenario, it is an important step in justifying the long term and short term financial implications before moving forward.
Besides the financial decisions, a system integrator can be helpful in making several sets of decisions. For example: what are the basic automation functions need to exist before you can upgrade individual functions more like “plugins” instead of required broad capabilities upgrades? What are the safety measures that need to be built into your automation plan? Finding a good system integrator can seem daunting, but it is usually an important step in developing your automation plan.
Not all line functions are practical to automate. In fact, trying to automate certain functions can actually make your packaging line less reliable. A system integrator will have the most knowledge on what can and cannot be accomplished with automation, the cost of various automated solutions and the viability of automation designs. Whether you just consult an integrator, or you hire one to design and complete your project, their input could be invaluable.
In the end, you need an overall automation strategy. Establish a plan that allows to see how your operations can expand with automation in the future in a way that makes sense for your business. Know the major milestones in your strategy and have a general timeline for reaching them. Remember: not everything has to be automated at once. A plan, budget and timeline will be your best tools moving forward.