How to Automate Without Breaking the Bank


The cost of establishing an automated system may seem daunting when looking at the price tag for equipment. Business owners may pause and wonder if retooling is worth the expense when compared to staying with current production methods.

Robotics, vision systems, and other types of automation have time-tested benefits but remain unproven if the prospective buyer has no experience with the equipment. Options to automate are increasing and this adds to the risk of buying unnecessary equipment and overspending.

Take these key steps to automate in a way that justifies the investment with costs that make sense.

Plan Ahead

Plan ahead to know the end goal. Pre-engineered software, plug and play systems and testing systems before delivery have cut down on the cost of automation during the past decade. What seems affordable is still money ill-spent if the objectives are not achieved.

Work with an integrator to set out the specific automation needs. Clear communication and a clear understanding of objectives help integrators understand what the end-user is looking to achieve and what they can afford.

‘‘Experience has taught us that we might have a way of simplifying the integration process that might save money for the end-user in the long run," said Gerd Walter, General Manager at Creative Automation Inc. in this article titled A Successful Partner: Choosing an Integrator.

He cautioned end-users to understand differences between the requirements of the work cell and their wish list. "Sometimes customers ask to add functionality that is unneeded and also adds a lot of costs. The wish list ends up on their quote and that increases costs a lot."

Compare Costs

Installing automated equipment will lead to reduced expenses in other areas. Money spent on automation will cut the Cost of Poor Quality (CoPQ), an expense that wouldn't exist if manufacturing was perfect. These costs typically run about 5 percent to 30 percent of a manufacturer's gross sales and include wasted materials but also lost goodwill and the expense of recalling products that were poorly manufactured.

Consider how automation will improve production and reduce the cost per unit. The greater the profit the sooner the return on investment will be realized.

 Calculate Costs

Automated systems vary in cost and capabilities. Robots were once manufactured to work at specific stations but now there are collaborative robots that are smaller and lightweight. These robots are versatile in their performance and can be used throughout a plant. A sales tag of $34,000 is available for models from manufacturers like Universal Robots based in Denmark with U.S. offices in East Setauket, New York. This makes it an attractive purchase for small to medium-sized businesses.

 Know Your Product

Every product has a life cycle and newer products may mean that it's easier to justify the costs of automation so a product moves quickly to market in as perfect a condition as possible.

A mature product that has settled into the marketplace may benefit from being produced efficiently and automation can be viewed as a way to generate maximum profits.

Consider automated systems that are flexible and can serve the needs of different products.

This may make automating more cost effective than if money is spent just on single work cells.

The more clearly a company's needs are understood, the easier it is to target the right kind of automated equipment to boost productivity while controlling expenditures.