Articles

3 Key Questions to Ask Yourself When Considering Automation

By Aren Buresh
Posted In : Automation, Labor
Automated Line - Central Line Control

You’ve heard of all the amazing benefits of automation and now you’re considering implementing it on your line, but how do you know your operation is ready to make that investment? And further, how do you know you are automating the right processes? 

There is no universal answer to both of those questions. Your goals and requirements for an automation project are going to be unique to your product and your line. However, there are a few standard things you will want to think about when planning your project: labor concerns and three basic logistical questions we ask all our customers. 

When labor concerns come into play 

When we ask our customers about the bottlenecks in their processes, there are two common answers: 

  1. There isn’t enough line capacity. 
  2. There isn’t enough available labor. 

Labor concerns are always a good indicator of the need for automation. It’s most beneficial when the rate at which you’re producing your packages exceeds what can be done with manual labor.  

This may seem obvious, but this problem is often answered by adding more labor to the line. That doesn’t work in today’s day and age. Your workforce is human, which means availability, cost, and safety concerns are all going to come into play when ramping up production. 

Labor cost is often seen as the leading factor that drives automation. While it can reduce the need for costly and tedious manual labor, the biggest problem we see it solving is a scarcity of labor. It’s hard to find and retain workers willing to work shoulder to shoulder performing repetitive tasks.  

Safety is another great indicator for your plant’s automation needs. If your production exceeds the rate at which manual tasks can be done ergonomically and safely, it’s time to think about automation. 

No one can afford even one workplace injury. Tasks like loading heavy cartons onto pallets or loading hundreds of packages over the course of a shift can have both immediate and long-term health concerns that automation can alleviate or eliminate all together. 

The 3 big questions to ask yourself before automating 

Once you feel you’ve identified your labor concerns, it’s time to ask yourself some logistical questions to determine the feasibility of your project. These are the three key questions we ask our customers at the beginning of an automation project: 

Is there a solid payback? 

The cost of automation and some of the tangible and intangible pieces of ROI are important to consider, and likely top of mind for your team. A good rule of thumb is a two-year payback period. Is this project going to increase productivity? Will it reduce costs significantly? Is the investment justified at this point? 

Is it a repeatable process? 

What specific task do you want to automate? You’ll want to make sure it’s something repeatable so you can program automation to do the same thing each time. Tasks that require decision making or include several variables are best suited for human labor, because your workforce can think and act in the moment, no reprogramming required. 

The advantage here is that you’re eliminating a tedious task, allowing your workforce to focus on more challenging and fulfilling work. It can also greatly improve the speed of these repetitive tasks. 

Do you have the space? 

If you’re considering automation, it likely means your operation is growing. That means more equipment, which requires more space. That’s great news for your company, but if you’re constrained to an older building with limited space, it can pose challenges for your automation project. 

Oftentimes, solutions will need to be custom configured to your space, which is why it’s important to work with a trusted automation partner that can help you creatively use the space you have. 

Automation is more than just buying a machine. It’s a partnership. These questions are a great way to begin evaluating the logistics of automation in your plant. The next step should be getting in touch with your automation partner to evaluate your specific options. 

We’re happy to be that partner. If you’re considering an automation project, feel free to reach out below to get in touch with our experts. 

Want personalized advice from an automation expert?

Tell us about your packaging automation project and we'll help you find the right solutions for your line.