One of the most obvious benefits of automation technology is the potential for cost savings from increased efficiencies. A recent survey showed that 81 percent of industrial manufacturing CEOs plan to rely on operational efficiencies to bolster growth via enhanced competitiveness, and PWC found that companies can expect efficiency gains of up to 12 percent over the next five years through technology and digital initiatives.
But while cost savings are important, they aren’t the only reason you should be thinking about automation. A race to the bottom isn’t always a sustainable way to gain a competitive advantage, especially if you’re a small to medium manufacturer introducing automation technology for the first time. So looking beyond cost, here are five reasons you should be introducing automation technology into your production facility.
1) Predicting and meeting market demand
Stockouts, inventory shortages, scheduling issues, or other supply chain challenges all result in lost revenue. Not only is there the immediate lost sale, but there is also the potential that frustrated customers will leave entirely and switch to a competitor’s product going forward, negatively impacting future results.
Machine learning, analytics, and data will all play a role in ensuring manufacturers are able to predict market demand accurately and anticipate changes well in advance. McKinsey suggests that machine learning alone will reduce supply chain forecasting errors by 50 percent and lost sales by up to 65 percent, all while reducing overall inventory by 20 to 50 percent.
2) Creating a safer work environment
The AWCBC reported that in 2017 there were more than 33,000 lost time injuries in the Canadian manufacturing industry. These injuries not only harm employees, but also lead to increased costs and a loss of productivity for manufacturers.
Another report showed that many workplace injuries are the result of strenuous and repetitive activities. Robots and machines are well positioned to take over these dangerous tasks, freeing up workers for more strategic and creative roles while improving workplace safety and reducing the risk of injury.
For example, repetitive lifting for packaging and storing can be replaced by automated robots and conveyor systems, reducing strain on workers. Some companies have also introduced wearable technology, which monitors workers’ movements and identifies if a worker is getting tired or moving in a potentially dangerous way, preventing injuries before they occur.
3) Retaining skilled labour and filling gaps in the labour force
Many people associate automation technology with job losses. But the truth is, one of the biggest challenges for manufacturers going forward will be finding skilled labour. A recent survey by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute found that in the US alone there may be as many as 2.4 million positions unfilled in the next decade. As a result, the search for skilled talent ranked as the most important driver of manufacturing competitiveness by global executives.
Robots and automation technology can be used to fill these gaps in the labour force, while creating a better work environment for skilled labour and increasing job satisfaction and productivity. Workers who are well equipped for the digital age will have new skills and work directly alongside robots on the factory floor, increasing productivity and throughput while also allowing the worker to be more strategic in their day-to-day work.
4) Improving product quality
Gone are the days of robots which perform the same task over and over again without any ability to adapt. New robotics technology, when combined with artificial intelligence and advanced sensors, can cope with a far greater degree of task variability and compensate for potential quality issues during manufacturing to ensure consistent product quality.
For example, a robot could adjust the amount of force required depending on component size or other variables. They could also use data and predictive analytics to identify defects before they reach the customer. Imagine a robot notices that it took significantly more torque to attach a component, and it knows that this is associated with product defects down the line. It could automatically alert workers to the problem who could then identify the cause and fix the issue before it went on to the next stage of production. The result? Higher customer satisfaction, fewer defects, and better quality products.
5) Entering new markets
New technologies such as additive manufacturing (commonly known as 3D printing) are helping companies enter new markets by reducing the time and cost required for prototyping and design. Combined with data and analytics, companies can predict trends, speed up time-to-market, and capture opportunities before their competitors.
Additionally, the falling price of robotics and automation technology has made it viable for lower production volumes than ever before. This reduces the risk for companies who are entering into new markets or who want to serve a niche market with low volumes by reducing the threshold needed to make these investments economical.
Finally, by taking a modular approach to equipment, manufacturers can be more flexible and responsive to changes in demand, swapping out a few modules rather than having to replace the entire machine every time a new product or specification is required.
Don’t be limited by cost savings – see how automation technology can help you be more competitive
Cost savings will always be important, but a race to the bottom doesn’t lead to a sustainable competitive advantage. There will always be someone who can do it cheaper than you. Instead, when considering automation technology, think of the ways it can help you differentiate. By delivering better quality products, being responsive and adaptable to changing trends, retaining workers and keeping them safe, and reducing time-to-market for new products, you can position yourself for long-term success and growth through technology.
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