3 Pitfalls of Automating Manufacturing Processes and Solutions to Avoid Them

Authors: Stephen Smiley, Colin Wilson, & ChatGPT

Credit: iStock/ipopba

Automation has transformed the landscape of manufacturing, promising increased efficiency, precision, and reduced costs. However, beneath the surface of these advantages lie potential pitfalls that can derail automation projects. We’ll explore three reasons why an automation initiative in manufacturing may face challenges and how companies can navigate these pitfalls.

1. Inadequate Planning and Foundational Work:

One of the primary reasons automation projects stumble is inadequate planning and ignoring process improvement best practices. Rushing into automation without a comprehensive understanding of the existing processes and a clear roadmap can lead to misalignment between technology and operations. Lack of coordination with different departments and insufficient training for the workforce can result in resistance to change. Successful automation requires meticulous planning, including thorough process mapping, technology assessment, and a well-defined integration strategy to ensure seamless collaboration between automated systems and human workers.

Pitfall Solutions:

  • Value Stream Map – Evaluating the process flow to identify waste and opportunities for improvement to streamline the process.
  • TWI Job Instructions & Standard Work – Processes need standard work and methodologies. Lack of standard work can cause waste and decrease productivity. Using standard work instructions can help the manufacturing process be more effective.
  • Operational Excellence Best Practices – The foundational work that automation can be built on.
  • Project Definition & Management – Using a project charter to define the project scope, steps, and responsibilities.
Stephen Smiley Business Transformation Service Line Leader

2. Technology Limitations and Complexity:

While the allure of cutting-edge technology is strong, it’s crucial to acknowledge the potential limitations and complexities associated with it. Adopting overly sophisticated automation solutions can lead to unforeseen challenges. Integration issues, software bugs, and the need for constant maintenance can disrupt production schedules. It’s essential for companies to strike a balance between adopting advanced technologies and ensuring that the chosen automation tools align with the specific needs of the manufacturing process. Regular updates, training programs, and continuous monitoring can help mitigate the risks associated with technology limitations.

Pitfall Solutions:

  • Risk Management – Assessing the risk of a potential project and planning mitigation strategies to manage the risk. This includes initial Engineering Development Testing to validate risky technologies and developing Vendor Standards.
  • Automation Skillset Assessment – Identify skills required to support the technology, assess employee aptitude, and identify required training to bridge any gaps.

3. Resistance to Change and Workforce Adaptation:

Photo of Colin Wison
Colin Wilson Service Line Leader and Senior Consultant Automation Service

Perhaps one of the most underestimated challenges in automation is the resistance to change from the existing workforce. Automation often brings about a fear of job displacement, and employees may be hesitant to embrace new technologies. To overcome this hurdle, companies must invest in effective change management strategies, including communication, training, and re-skilling programs. Involving employees in the automation process, highlighting the benefits, and demonstrating how automation can enhance their roles can foster a positive attitude toward change, ensuring a smoother transition and long-term success.

Pitfall Solutions:

  • Change Management – Significant initiatives need a change management program to help employees through the change process. 60% of projects fail due to a lack of managing change.
  • Frontline Leader Skill Development – Frontline leaders have a dramatic affect on employees understanding and adoption of major initiatives. Good frontline leaders can help employees through the change process.
  • TWI Job Instructions & Standard Work – Processes need standard work and methodologies. Lack of standard work can cause confusion and frustration on the shop floor. Using standard work instructions can help employees be more effective.
  • Blended Learning & Training – Using online and in-person training can educate employees on automation, project management, and reinforce the change process. This knowledge will increase success of projects and reduce employee frustration.

In conclusion, while the benefits of automating manufacturing processes are significant, it’s essential for companies to approach automation projects with caution and strategic planning. Addressing issues related to planning, technology integration, and workforce adaptation will pave the way for successful automation initiatives, ensuring that the promise of increased efficiency and productivity is realized without succumbing to potential pitfalls.

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