Automation and why it’s important: Sarah Black-Smith

The Manufacturing Automation and Robotics Symposium 2021 took place on 20th May and had a stellar line up of speakers. Over the next few days, we will be recapping the virtual event and bringing you the key takeaways to help you on your own business automation journey.

At the Manufacturing Automation and Robotics event, attendees heard from Head of Factory Operations at Siemens Congleton, Sarah Black-Smith, as she presented the opening keynote, detailing the journey of Siemens as they implement more and more automation and robotics into their factory and shared how you too can implement this into your own business.

Key Motivations

Sarah began her presentation by pinpointing the key motivations for Siemens in employing increased automation and robotics in their factory. These included:

  • Shortened time to market.
  • Increased flexibility.
  • Boosted efficiency.

The key reasons listed above were, for Siemens, the motivation and drive for pursuing digitalisation and automation.

Sarah said: “The gains from digitalisation and automation have given us a massive increase of 50% in productivity. It’s enabled us to deliver products in one day, which is what our strategy was all about, so we really drove that flexible delivery strategy and speed for our customers. It also enabled our 12-month development cycle to introduce products as quickly as possible to the market.

“We wanted to increase productivity through robotic automation and look at how we can integrate some of the concepts in the design of new products, so that they’re more automatable in the future. We looked at the role of additive manufacturing and where that could give us benefits in the factory. Virtual reality was a really big part of speeding-up our productivity journey and integrating a lot of Siemens software tools.”

First Steps

Sarah Black-Smith - Head of factory operations at Siemens’ award-winning factory in Congleton
Sarah Black-Smith – Head of factory operations at Siemens’ award-winning factory in Congleton

Sarah’s presentation progressed into the explanation of Siemens’ first use of robotics in the factory, which took the shape of a guarded, conventional robot on the shop floor. While the speed of the robot was a real benefit, the guarding and space requirements were a downside from a safety point of view. Sarah shared a clip showing the robot in action, showing the first step in their journey towards robotics and automation.

From this first implementation Sarah shared what they learned to move forward: “We needed to move to a more intimate deployment of robots that take up less space. This is where collaborative robots (cobots) and lightweight robots have come into play. We want to have our operators interacting more closely in the future, but not necessarily immediately, in this space.”

A new slide demonstrates a latter project, where light guarding has enabled Siemens to overcome having a robot without any physical guarding. This enables the production operations to work a lot closer and saves a huge amount of space.

Ownership Culture

The journey to improving the deployment of robots on the shop floor, and overcoming guarding and space issues, would not have been possible without their people, Sarah said.

“For us in Congleton, our success is built on the great culture that we’ve got and that is built on engagement with our employees and keeping people at the heart of everything that we do.

“We have something that’s called ‘ownership culture’ in Congleton, and that’s all about acting as if it’s your own company, making decisions, and thinking, ‘if this were my business, what would I do?’ That’s what has really driven us to think about how we go about doing things.”


Sarah Black-Smith and Ashleigh Sumner at Siemens' Congleton Factory - image courtesy of Siemens

Sarah Black-Smith and Ashleigh Sumner at Siemens’ Congleton Factory.


When first implementing robots, Siemens introduced them to employees by placing them in glass boxes on the shop floor. With Congleton’s engineers present, people were able to examine, learn and communicate about the proposed robotic changes. The space for people to learn allowed for much easier implementation and made sure changes were not kept secret.

Sarah said: “We want people to come on this journey with us. That’s one of the key things for me; we bring all the employees on this journey. That has been absolutely critical for the success at Congleton.”

What’s next for Siemens?

Sarah reiterated Siemens’ focus on developing innovation leadership and entrepreneurship. She said: “Our purpose is all about doing what other people can’t do, making sure that we’re a sustainable factory for years to come. Our vision is that we’ll be the undisputed number one in the market that we’re in, shaping the future with brilliant people, great ideas, and inspired customers. Our mission is to care for people, support each other to build a more creative environment, and we want to be first to market, but we want to do that in a way that brings our people with us.”


Other events from the Manufacturing Automation and Robotics Symposium include: How automation is changing the work place and Implementing and operating strategies for automation projects.


Images supplied by Siemens.