Implementation and Operating Strategies for Automation Projects

Posted on 25 May 2021 by Daniel Kirmatzis

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 in order to bring you the key takeaways to help you and your business on your own automation journey.

At a breakout discussion on Implementation and Operating Strategies for Automation Projects during our recent Manufacturing Automation and Robotics Symposium, David Hamilton, Site Engineering Manager at Bakkavor and Dave Rippon, Operations Director at Trederwen Springs, led an informative exchange between participants on how to successfully manage these types of projects.

Those joining the session had a wide range of experience with automation projects across a diverse group of sectors within the manufacturing industry including automotive, defence and food and drink.

So how do you ensure a successful outcome for your automation project?

Delegates shared experiences of both successes and failures and to avoid the latter it is important you carry out due diligence before the project starts. Having clear goals of what automation will deliver for the business is key to this. But mapping outcomes are just the first step. At this initial stage it is critical to have a clear understanding of desires versus budget. Do not allow your desires to overstretch the allocated budget, for costs can and will spiral without proper understanding of what can be achieved financially.

Understand your processes

Once you’ve decided the project outcomes you should map out your business’s processes. Automation is not easy and failed projects have one thing in common – a lack of understanding of how operating processes fit together within the business. Problems can arise when automating one part of your operations without knowledge of how it will fit in with other areas of your production processes.

Who owns the project?

From an early stage in your automation journey, you must ensure ownership within your business and map out roles and responsibilities. Who within your organisation will provide key updates to stakeholders? Without clear ownership automation projects can falter. Good ownership means successful delivery on desired outcomes which is achieved by providing feedback on key stages of the journey to everyone involved in the project from shop floor to management.

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Patience is key

Patience is a key attribute of a successful owner as you will be working across departments and having to engage key stakeholders ensuring that the original vision is still the right one for the business. Resistance to such projects is natural and can occur from those from within the business responsible for the management of key stages, so having a strategy to manage people should be a consideration from the outset including how you will keep everyone informed so they feel fully engaged with the project’s delivery and a sense of collective responsibility.

Break an automation project into small chunks

A key message from the session was to create ‘small pockets of automation’, i.e. start with one area where automation could potentially improve your production processes and scale from there. Important to this ‘small pockets’ approach is prototyping and Dave Rippon, Operations Director, Trederwen Springs, emphasised that automation cannot be done quickly if you want to do it right but prototyping gives you the opportunity to see what works and what doesn’t before you start a larger project.

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