According to an early 2014 study, automation and robotics will add 128,000 jobs in the U.S. while eliminating only 90,000 jobs — for a net gain of 38,000 jobs. The impact of automation on employment is complex and cannot be determined from automation alone, but it does lead one to question what automation means for manufacturers.
Automation already plays a significant role in creating goods sold in America’s stores. In part because of automation, many retail companies have been able to keep prices low despite rising labor costs over the past few years.
Manufacturers can benefit by automating certain processes to focus on activities that computers cannot do effectively yet. Manufacturers’ success hinges on optimizing their existing production automation and making better use of automation capabilities that are already being applied. This is the only way to help ensure that automation doesn’t have a negative impact on overall production.
- Implement Robotic Automation
Using automation for simple, monotonous tasks allows factory workers to take on more meaningful work. Factory robots are good at working with highly repetitive tasks or carrying out specific actions quickly and precisely. They can be used to automatically load materials into machines, inspect products as they are produced, pack finished goods securely and label them before moving them along in the production process, among other things, by allowing human workers to focus their efforts on higher-level problems or opportunities instead of repeating redundant processes all day long.
- Implement Software Automation
In addition to using automation in the physical sense, manufacturers can also use automation via software for production-related tasks that are too difficult or complex for humans to perform effectively. Instead of requiring a programmer to create a new program from scratch each time a new task must be automated, you can often purchase automation software like MRP software that works with the applications your company already has installed, saving money and time. Many applications today come with automation capabilities built right in.
- Collaborate with Your IT Department
Many production automation projects require input from information technology (IT) professionals because they involve changes to existing network or systems infrastructure. Rather than going about automation efforts alone and risking costly mistakes and delays, manufacturers should collaborate with IT professionals to identify automation opportunities and make sure the company’s existing technology will support automation projects.
- Make Your Human Workers More Productive
To gain an actual return on investment (ROI) from automation, you must improve your overall production rate at minimum cost. To hit that target, manufacturing executives may need to re-evaluate their human workforce to find ways to become more productive. For example, companies can use data analytics software tools to track process flaws that lead to rejections or errors, then fix those problems, so workers don’t have as many quality issues or safety concerns. Automation becomes a much more appealing investment by improving the processes your human workers follow each day.
- Automate Customer-Facing Tasks
One of the automation’s greatest strengths is its ability to free up human workers from tasks that are better suited for computers. Retailers can do this by automating customer-facing processes, such as the cash register checkout, self-checkout kiosks, or automation software. Customer service robots may also be an option in some situations to handle routine calls and chats with customers, so your human employees don’t have to spend so much time on them.
- Track Production Quality Levels
To ensure automation is working toward the goals you’ve set for it, manufacturers should follow production quality levels closely. Keep tabs on errors that are being made, which areas of production are problematic, and which automation tools are making a real difference in improving overall quality. By knowing production quality levels, you can make informed decisions about automation and move forward next.
- Test New Processes Before Implementing Automation
In high-tech product manufacturing, it is important to have a keen understanding of your company’s automation potential before investing significant resources into projects. To do this, manufacturers must test new automation processes using software simulations with manufacturing ERP software or physical prototypes to gauge their success before rolling anything out on a large scale.
- Don’t Automate Just Because You Can
When it comes to automation, there will always be simple tasks that humans could do more quickly and efficiently than robots – but just because a job takes five minutes doesn’t mean automation will always produce results that are five times better than current methods. Before you invest your automation budget in any project, ask yourself whether or not it would actually pay off in the long run.
- Get More Sustainable
Every automation project should aim to reduce costs while increasing sustainability, worker safety, and business efficiency. If automation makes your production systems more sustainable without sacrificing too much of what made them efficient in the first place, you can be sure you’re headed in the right direction.