Extra Costs You Shouldn’t Overlook When Planning Your Next Automation Project

By Harpak-ULMA
Posted In : Automation, packaging automation, Labor, cost
AR Operational Considerations

There are several costs, savings, and value adding components to evaluate when considering a new automation project. We’ve written about the value of automation and how to justify automation in your plant, but this article will break down some of the more tangible costs you should budget for outside of the packaging line itself. 

Ancillary Equipment & Wiring 

Potential costs outside of the packaging line itself may include: wiring, conduit, and cable trays; panels, cabinets, marshalling panels, and junction boxes; and instrumentation and/or labeling related inline devices, analyzers, transmitters, printers, vision systems, etc.  

If existing assets will be leveraged, examine physical condition and ensure proper documentation exists for related wiring, including terminations, labeling, and grounding during the initial feasibility analysis. In some cases, older analog I/O interfaces that supported multiple instrument loops may require additional I/O – a minor issue if uncovered in a feasibility evaluation, but more costly if found during commissioning. 

Network & Connectivity 

Modern automation systems connect to a variety of other systems or production components in layers, including control (automation-oriented), enterprise (information-oriented), and various devices or busses.  

Interfaces at each layer should be tested for performance that will equal or exceed the existing system. The new packaging automation system should support existing communication protocols, either directly or through protocol converters, but replacing systems or components may be required in some instances. Aligning communication protocols to accepted industry standards will provide better long-term cost and choice. 

Infrastructure Needs 

Depending on the scope and breadth of your packaging automation project, consider evaluating how your new specifications align with operations and maintenance needs. This may include power requirements (including UPS) and HVAC to ensure sufficient capacity to handle the new automation system components.  

If the physical footprint will change significantly, is there space to house and mount new system components, including control hardware and operator workstations?  

One area that can’t be overlooked is the commissioning plan’s effects on these factors, particularly when cutover plans call for simultaneous operation of the old and the new systems. 

Safety is another major consideration. Does the new automation equipment work with the current safety process and flow of the room? Make sure the line isn’t blocking critical pathways for forklift traffic, operator egress, or ease of maintenance.  

Critical Documentation 

Your automation solution interfaces and connections to equipment and wiring, network infrastructure, and ancillary systems will require additions, changes or updates to documents and drawings. Accepted Good Manufacturing Principles (GMP) and FDA regulations demands that key process documentation be reviewed, changed, or added as part of the commissioning of the new packaging automation system.  

This may include P&IDs, loop sheets, I/O databases, system configuration, software programs and documentation, functional specifications, control system narratives, as well as programming and design standards.  

Documentation is the key to GMP compliance and ensures traceability of all development, manufacturing, and testing activities. Documentation provides the route for auditors to assess the overall quality of operations within a company and the final product. 

Miscellaneous Installation and Commissioning 

Demolition, installation, and commissioning plans typically address budget, schedule, and available manpower. But while production facilities are staffed for day-to-day operations, identifying supplemental personnel/contract services to execute major projects may be required.  

Other aspects to account for in the plan are shutdown schedules, plans to minimize downtime, and use of hot cutovers. Also, it may be worthwhile to consider planning to recoup any plant output reductions resulting from these activities.  

Other items that can be accounted for include related construction design costs and documentation, new cable and conduit schedules, instrumentation and device drawings or diagrams, panel and enclosure designs, point-to-point diagrams, and installation details drawings. 

Taking these costs into account is an important part of the planning process. If you’d like help navigating this process, feel free to reach out to our experts.

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