New Zealand's Leading Robotic Automation Specialists

Guide To Industrial Automation

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We put this guide to automation together to help NZ Manufacturers gain an understanding of what it is you need to consider when looking at introducing automation to your production. We've put our combined 30+ years of experience into it and it's helped numerous companies around the country get a better understanding of their process and how to automate it.

 
Why     What     Where     When     Who

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Why would you automate your production?

We’ve compiled the following list of why companies we’ve worked with have made the decision to automate:

•    Increase the rate of production
•    Increase the consistency and predictability of the rate of production
•    Increase the quality of the product
•    Reduce direct labour costs
•    Reduce health and safety risks involved with a process
•    Reduce scrapped product or wasted material and labour
•    Reduce processing space required, or fit additional processes into an existing space
•    Improve customer perception of the production process

All these reasons have the same driving factor - the need for businesses to be able to meet their market's needs in a competitive way. By competitive, we mean competitive both locally and globally. Being competitive globally is critical for all companies either looking to export or competing with imported products. Which describes almost every manufacturing company in New Zealand.

At Design Energy we’re passionate about New Zealand Manufacturing. Kiwis have developed and are continuing to develop a huge number of world beating products. Unfortunately it is becoming more and more common to see these ideas being manufactured off shore, due to the cost of manufacturing in New Zealand. This is why we have the following mission statement:

“To retain local manufacturing of the intellectual property developed in New Zealand, by making local manufacturer’s competitive on a global scale through automation”

 

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What happens as your product comes together from its raw components?

How does the product arrive at the process?

In automation there is great value in knowing the position of a product in space. Put another way, if you don’t know the position of the product, it costs  money to find it by applying a magazine or bowl feeder for example. The product has to be introduced to a process in an accurate and repetitive way. It often pays to look at how the product comes out of the previous process. If possible, there are potential savings in linking the automated process directly to the end of the previous process.

What is happening to the product?

Tasks are typically more complex than you may initially perceive. Analyse in detail what is happening and which processes are adding value. There can be savings made, both in time and cost, by removing non-value added processes where possible. An example of a non-value added process is transporting parts between processes by palletising them at the end of one process and depalletising them at the start of the next process.

What are the variables?

This can be difficult as it involves looking at the weakness of all the preceding processes. Is it possible for the product to show up backwards, upside down, or not at all? Do you have control of the tolerances of the product being presented to the automated process? Dealing with these variables can be expensive, less so if these variables are identified and addressed as part of the development of the automation. Variables are why automation companies often use the phrase:

“product to be processed is suitable for automation”

There is almost always a method of dealing with a variable, but it usually costs money. If you don't allow for any variability, then the quality of your product and the productivity of the system will suffer.
        
Good automation providers will ask a lot of questions around what processes are being carried out, as it is the major factor in the cost of automation. It is critical that both you and the automation company understand the process and the variables when designing an automated system.

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How much space do you have available to install equipment?
Space and positioning of equipment can be deciding factors in how automation is applied to a process, especially when adding to an existing line. The initial step is to define how much space is available, which is usually quite straight forward.

The next step, which takes longer but can result in further savings, is to look at the space in terms of process flow. Can raw materials and processed product be loaded/unloaded from one side of the automated system? Is there an advantage in stacking onto multiple pallets? Is there room to achieve this?

The layout of the plant also has great influence on how automated processes are integrated. Do you understand why your plant is currently laid out like it is? What machinery can and can’t be moved? What are the costs involved moving machinery?  An experienced Automation Company will be looking at the big picture and may identify benefits in a change of layout.

This analysis of the process flow can also provide an opportunity to make the Plant a nicer place to work. Is the loading/unloading of products as easy as it can be? Can we reduce health and safety risks by not having operators in the same area as forklifts? Does that noisy press have to be right next to the cafe?

Finally, automated processes are a major investment, which is why many of the latest plant layouts are designed so that visitors and customers can see the process. Since you're spending money on new technology, why not position it so people can see it.

 

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How fast are you currently producing? What do you need to change to speed it up? And how fast do you want to go?

With automation, timing is everything. We could write a book on this topic alone, but here is the short version...

The first thing to identify is the time it takes to carry out the task currently. Automation Companies usually refer to “cycle time”, which is the time it takes to process a single unit. We don’t suggest you walk out to your production line right now and stand behind Tim or Carol with a stopwatch and time how long it takes them to pack one box. This is absolutely NOT your current cycle time. Nothing motivates a person like Management standing behind them with a stopwatch. Instead look at daily or monthly production rates, which will give you a more accurate idea of your current cycle time.

Example: Plastic Processing Company are able to produce 20,000 pottles a day, working 2 shifts of 8 hours.
Cycle Time of a pottle = 2.88 seconds
 
The next step is to identify why it takes this long. Somewhere in the  production line a process will be setting the cycle time, which is referred to as the “bottle neck”. If you speed up the bottle neck, the entire line will speed up as a result. If you increase the speed of a process, but the units are still coming off the end of the production line at the same rate, you haven’t found the bottle neck.

Now you need to decide how fast you want to go. Think in daily or monthly production rates, not cycle times. One company we worked with became so focused on reducing the cycle time, the system they asked us to propose could process their months production in two days. It wasn’t until we showed them what the system could achieve monthly that they realised what was actually required.

Something that is often overlooked is that manual labour (from our experience) is around 60% to 70% efficient; a properly  automated process will be 95% efficient. It won’t stop for lunch, it won’t play with it’s phone, it just keeps working. Even an automated system that completes the task in a slower cycle time than manual labour, can produce more over a day.

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What labour input is involved in your production process?

Labour costs are repeatedly identified as the major reason New Zealand Manufacturers struggle to compete in a global market. Automating processes where there are large amounts of labour required provides opportunity for significant reductions in production costs. It is common for a large portion of the cost of the automation to be funded through ongoing labour savings, so a clear understanding of the labour cost involved in the current production process is important.

Example: At Bob’s Bakery it takes two (2) people to pack biscuits into boxes and stack those boxes onto a pallet. Bob has worked out that each labour unit costs $25.00 per hour. Bob’s biscuit line runs for eight (8) hours a day, five (5) days a week, fifty (50) weeks a year.
Total Labour Cost per year    = $100,000

If Bob’s Accountant wants to see a payback period of 3 years, delivered solely by labour cost savings, then he can justify spending $300,000 on automating this part of production.

It is important not to forget that an automated system still needs some labour input. As well as the day to day operation of the system almost all automated systems have consumables which need to be restocked manually. Typical consumables include glue pellets in a gluing system, ink for a label printer or filler wire in a welding system. The labour content is often not an entire labour unit, but more likely a person spending ten minutes every hour monitoring the system.

A final note on labour costs - to understand the real cost of labour, administration, ACC, holidays etc must be accounted for. A simple rule of thumb is to add an additional 25-30% of the hourly rate to approximate these costs.

 

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