One of the toughest challenges in bringing innovative products to market is bridging the gap between ‘proof of principle’ and volume manufacture, which can be a massive hurdle for early-stage businesses that are often integrating new materials, functions and technologies for the first time.
Part or fully-automated production systems can deliver cost-effective perfect products but machine development needs careful managing. Here are top ten tips based on our experience of working with SMEs, as well as major manufacturers across a broad range of sectors:
1) Produce a specification. Many projects are ‘less than perfect’ through lack of a well thought out specification. Writing a spec is an iterative process but a good supplier will be able to help and the spec will become a well-thumbed reference work as it evolves through the course of the project. Developing a spec may also uncover existing standard or configurable solutions, which should always be checked carefully, as customised automated lines are inevitably more expensive and take longer to develop.
2) Be clear on your cost justification. Establish pay back periods to get a good idea of the project budget and to gauge stakeholders’ enthusiasm for investment.
3) Involve an automation supplier as early as possible. Too many companies wait until product prototypes are fully tested before considering manufacture. Involve your automation supplier for advice, to identify potential failure modes and to help avoid costly design mistakes.
4) Tell potential suppliers everything you know. If necessary sign NDAs but don’t keep prospective automation partners in the dark; they’ll just quote for (or even worse supply) something that fails to address the real issues.
5) Be realistic about timescales and deadlines. Take into account acceptance, installation training and production ramp-up. No machine earns its keep from day one.
6) Put the right team together by working with an automation development company that has the capacity, commitment and track record to build, test and deliver what they develop. A small and focussed development team will be able to make quick decisions but also maintain good communication with senior decision makers and other stakeholders across the business to keep them updated.
7) Save costs by paying for advice. Remove uncertainties in your product or process by commissioning focussed and scoped feasibility studies. The more you de-risk, the more likely your system will be delivered on time and to budget, without costly dead-ends or awkward compromises on equipment capability or performance.
8) Problems can arise at any time. Any risks that are uncovered during the development must be addressed. Ignoring them will not make them disappear and they will affect the capability of the system when installed.
9) Work closely with your automation supplier to ensure a supportive, open and trusting relationship, where information is shared freely.
10) Take ownership of the delivered equipment. Involve technicians and operators in equipment design decisions and signoff testing to help kickstart their commitment. Also remember to ensure the supplier provides adequate training for operation and maintenance so your team can take control of the new system and run it efficiently.
Automating critical assembly or quality testing tasks can help shorten time to market for new technologies but it can also support companies with established processes looking to cut costs, improve their competitiveness or boost production capacities. For further tips and suggestions please email [email protected].
For more information on automation and manufacturing efficiency, visit The Manufacturer Automation Advisory Board Resources Page: www.themanufacturer.com/automation-advisory-board/
About GB Innomech
GB Innomech (Innomech) specialises in automating highly complex and labour-intensive manufacturing processes to maximise outputs, improve product quality and boost business performance. The company works with major international manufacturers in sectors such as pharmaceuticals, medical devices and environmental, as well as earlier-stage businesses looking to bring breakthrough technologies or products to market.
Innomech has a growing market reputation for solving the toughest of manufacturing problems by the early identification and management of risk, often cross-fertilising technologies and techniques from a range of industry sectors. All projects from initial feasibility studies through to building production-scale machines are conducted to high specification pharmaceutical industry standards and are designed to comply with GAMP5, FDA and other international standards.
The company was founded in 1990, is based at The Innovation Centre in Witchford, north of Cambridge and was awarded The Queen’s Award for Enterprise 2009 to recognise its sustained growth in international markets.