What to Do When Your Automation Strategy Fails



You’ve automated a system in your facility and hoped for a boost in production and, ultimately, an increase in sales. Something didn't work though. Employees weren't any more productive and the equipment didn't perform up to expectations. Here's a framework to evaluate and troubleshoot automation strategies that may fall short. Minor tweaks may be all that's needed, or a systemic issue could be uncovered that may include a need for further training or re-working a robotic cell.

Evaluate Equipment to Goals

Welding companies may invest in automation to boost the number of welds made per hour while a company like a small custom car parts manufacturer may need parts sized to precision and cut quickly. Productivity may not have the same meaning from one industry to another and different types of equipment will be needed.

Manufacturers want satisfied customers and some even provide training and demo centers. Make a call to a rep and ask for help in digging in to your challenges.

Choose a Quality Integrator

The integrator who recommends equipment, installs it, and trains on it should be available for follow-up questions and trouble-shooting. Some integrators have specific knowledge of certain industries and specific capabilities.

Schneider Packaging is an integrator working with the packaging needs for industries that include food and beverage, pharmaceutical, personal care. In a write-up Packaging and Palletizing Robots, the company's vice president says, "End-of-line packaging is all we do…Being a great general integrator is nowhere as important as being a great packaging integrator. The product varies, the pallets vary. It’s a very unique industry.”

Visit the Robotic Industries Association website and click on the Certified Robot Integrator Program page to learn about industry standards and ask if your integrator has these or similar qualifications.

Plan the Equipment's Performance

Equipment must perform as efficiently as possible and avoid idle time. Just like computers are only as good as the information that's entered, robots can only function like they're told.

In an assembly line type of environment an integrator should work with you to use "vision systems, advanced algorithms, and multi-robot control to look at products moving down a conveyor belt" as noted in the article Look ahead Path Planning. Take into account the position and workspace of each robot for maximum results.

Make Preventative Maintenance Routine

Maintenance is required for trouble-free functionality. Preventative maintenance should be routine even if this means an infrequent scheduled shut down of equipment. In this article, Simple Ways to Protect Your Robotic MIG Gun, there's a reminder to not neglect any parts. Abide by the 5S rule of Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize and Sustain. Great strides have been made in automation with equipment becoming easier to operate yet the need still exists to maintain equipment.

If your automation strategy didn't work out like you initially planned, don't despair. Stop to do an initial evaluation and then contact your available resources for the right solution.