Technology is moving at an ever-increasing speed, and keeping pace is a valid concern for even the largest of companies. But it’s a popular misconception that automation is only available to large multinationals with bottomless coffers.
Like all innovations, automation is quickly becoming accessible at a variety of price points and ignoring it can put small and medium-sized business at a disadvantage.
While it’s true that more advanced automation brings additional costs, it also contributes added value. Most machine builders now offer entry-level automation as a standard component of their products, making it a key technology for reducing overall manufacturing costs.
It’s a crucial element for any size company to stay relevant and keep operating costs as low as possible, but the justification for investing in automation goes beyond the spreadsheet and the traditional view of return on investment.
Automation can help companies keep up with production demand, increase manufacturing speeds, maintain consistent quality, and reduce labor costs and waste. Automation can also warn of potential maintenance and downtime issues before they happen, reducing downtime and associated maintenance costs.
For midsize or e-commerce companies with a limited number of SKUs, automation is a key driver for consistent quality, product safety and personnel safety.
On the factory floor, it makes operating equipment easier, more efficient and interactive. The implementation of a user-friendly human-machine interface built on solid automation allows even minimally trained operators to easily collect and validate accurate data, support maintenance to reduce changeover times, increase uptime and simplify troubleshooting.
“While it’s true that more advanced automation brings additional costs, it also contributes added value.”
Well-implemented automation actually makes the job of operators easier, freeing them to focus on higher level tasks, such as operational improvements and autonomous maintenance, which improves the bottom line.
Automated equipment also allows for remote access and monitoring of equipment, which can save significant maintenance costs.
Almost as important is that those that are adopting automation now—i.e., your competitors—are already finding tremendous value and ROI, creating a growing gap between themselves and those who haven’t embraced yet embraced the technology.
The Association of Packaging and Processing Technologies’ 2018 “Automation in CPG Companies” survey revealed that 44 percent of respondents indicated that they are at least planning to increase investment in big data analytics capabilities, which will drive enhancements in automation in the next 18-24 months.
The survey also showed capital spending in automation is expected to increase, with many earmarking it as an area for potential investment. Companies that don’t embrace these technologies will not be able to keep up with their competitors, attract new business and have the flexibility necessary to survive.
Midsize manufacturers need to take advantage of today’s technologies to ensure that they are as capable as possible, while seeking out solutions that can be upgraded as technology progresses.
Dr. Bryan Griffen is director of industry services for PMMI, the association for packaging and processing technologies. He has nearly 25 years of industry experience, including 20 years with Nestlé, and is the former chairman of the board of directors for the Organization for Machine Automation and Control and previous chair of the OMAC Packaging Workgroup.