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Is It Time to Update Your Automation Plans?

September 24, 2020

Manufacturers, as you continue to gear up your facilities after closures earlier in the year related to COVID-19, you’ll want to reassess your long-term business strategies, including automation.

As manufacturers have reopened their facilities after COVID 19-related closures, many are reassessing their long-term business strategies. One area of renewed interest is automation. Greater resilience in the face of a pandemic or another type of costly business interruption is just one reason to automate your production facilities, whether for the first time or more extensively.

Beyond Repetitive Physical Tasks

Automation often is regarded as an alternative approach to traditionally manual tasks, particularly those that are high-volume and repetitive. But these days it’s capable of much more.

Automation now can be used for tasks typically thought of as requiring human judgment or decision making — work that’s lower-volume than widget assembly but more complicated. For example, manufacturers now can automate part (or all) of their production planning, order processing, inspection, inventory management and procurement. In the past, automated tools could carry out only one specialized task. Now, a single tool can often perform several of these functions.

Potential Benefits

With advancements in tools and technologies, the advantages of automation continue to expand. Common benefits in the manufacturing sector include:

Streamlined production. Automakers have long been at the forefront of automation. For example, they’ve used automation to facilitate just-in-time production, allowing them to respond quickly to changes in demand. Automation can also improve workflow and expedite order fulfillment, which, in turn, reduces lead time, bottlenecks and waste.

Higher quality products. Humans sometimes make mistakes, whether on the assembly line, in the shipping department, during inspections or on spreadsheets. Automation brings much higher levels of accuracy and precision than human workers can. Automated output is more consistent, and subpar units are less likely to escape notice before leaving the premises. Higher quality translates to happier customers, a better reputation and, ideally, higher demand.

Increased safety. Deploying automation for high-risk work or work in dangerous conditions can help on the occupational safety and health front. Robots and other machines can perform tasks that call for speed, lifting, endurance or similar physical output more safely than humans.

Automation has proven effective for product safety, too. For example, the aviation industry relies on automation technology to reduce the risk of human error when producing systems critical to safe flight.

Less reliance on labor availability. Generally, the higher the degree of automation, the less vulnerable a manufacturer is to labor shortages or strikes. For example, many plants were temporarily closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, not because of governmental stay-at-home orders, but because employees tested positive for the virus.

Better use of human resources. Automation lets you reallocate staff from time-consuming and repetitive tasks to other work that requires human touch and ingenuity. Automated operations generally see higher productivity from their workers.

All these benefits can give your manufacturing firm an advantage over competitors that are mired in manual processes. With shorter production cycles and lower costs, you can be more responsive when opportunities arise, nimbly scaling up or down as necessary to maximize efficiency. Ultimately, automation can build your company’s profits and value over the long run.

Effective Means to a Profitable End

Even if you can’t implement an end-to-end automation strategy, automating strategic parts of your operations can lead to significant benefits. KLR’s manufacturing specialists can help evaluate how automation can move your manufacturing business closer to achieving its objectives, without busting the budget in uncertain times.

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