There’s never been a better time for manufacturers to embrace automation, thanks to modern advancements in sensors, robotics, and enterprise asset management (EAM) software. Also hastening the trend is the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, which is driving businesses to adopt automation as a means to enhance worker safety.
Beginning an automation journey is easier when you know where to start.
Most organizations lay the groundwork by implementing EAM software to unify asset data throughout the enterprise. Integrated data benefits manufacturers in several ways. For example, using EAM software to provide a single source of data streamlines inventory control, logistics, assembly, and maintenance.
In this post, you’ll see how manufacturers can create a foundation for automation and how EAM software kickstarts the process.
The rise of manufacturing automation
The automotive industry has been pioneering efficiency and production automation ever since the Ford Motor Company introduced the moving assembly line in 1913. More than 100 years later, a wide range of products are now created in factories using some level of technology-driven automation.
Meanwhile, recent workforce shortages are prompting manufacturers to level up their automation technology. In fact, a study by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute estimates2.4 million manufacturing jobs could go unfilled by 2028. Forward-thinking companies agree that automation is an essential solution for boosting production in today's competitive environment.
And there are other, short-term drivers of the automation trend as well.
Besides creating high demand for manufactured products, the recent coronavirus pandemic has revealed that some manufacturers are now speeding up their automation timelines. According to GlobalData, the economic effects of COVID-19 have made manufacturers “realize the need for faster automation and innovation.”
Automation not only helps manufacturers meet the demand for their products, but with today’s technology, automation is now safer, more precise, and more affordable than ever.
Computerized machinery, coupled with sensors and data collection, allows manufacturers to optimize uptime. For instance, imaging systems are ever-vigilant to improve quality control, and sophisticated algorithms analyze maintenance data to predict equipment failures.
In other words, Industry 4.0 — the shift from isolated systems toward smart factories with an interconnected network of machines, materials, and products — isn’t just a futuristic dream. Industry 4.0 is here right now.
For many, the first step to automation is enterprise asset management. Integrating asset data company-wide makes it possible to optimize asset availability, create preventive maintenance (PM) schedules, and increase productivity. EAM software makes asset information available in real time to the people who need it most.
Beginning the automation journey
Automation has come a long way. Some of the machinery commonly used in factories today, such as robots and intelligent optical scanners, seemed like science fiction 50 years ago. But it’s clear that automation will continue to be a differentiator in the future.
One of the most important benefits of automation is efficiency. Some production lines also gain better product quality, less material waste, improved worker recruitment and retention, and reduced factory lead time. Your own journey will be unique to your business.
Take a close look at all your processes, and chances are you’ll find some great opportunities to automate.
In many factories, robots and collaborative robots (or “cobots”) commonly work alongside humans. For example, a robot might be able to intelligently adjust the thickness of paint, adhesive, or other coatings in real time as they are applied to an underlying material. Rough material needs a little more paint? Your robot has it figured out. Robots can also take on hazardous tasks and perform repetitive functions to better protect worker health.
Technologies such as wireless mesh networks, cloud communications, and shop floor sensors have made it possible to gather vast amounts of information quickly. With wireless technology, manual checks and data recording becomes automatic.
Automated inspection processes
Quality control measures are well-suited to automation, helping to identify non-conforming items, for example. Automating quality inspections with modern imaging systems can free up staff to better focus their time on root cause analysis. In other words, the automated system can quickly find the small number of below-standard items on the production line, and the human can investigate why the compromise occurred.
Before deciding to automate your entire manufacturing enterprise, it’s important to build a strong foundation to support the changes automation will bring. EAM solutions can provide the backbone of maintenance schedules and processes that improve uptime for all your assets.
Once you start your journey with digital asset management, you can continue adjusting processes, bit by bit, and grow from there.
Automating tasks with EAM software
Asset management is essential for maximum uptime. But it can be tricky to keep assets running at peak performance when new assets are always being added to the portfolio.
To handle the intricacies of maintenance management, companies often turn to computerized maintenance management software (CMMS) as an initial investment. With ambitious growth, many manufacturers reach a point where they’re ready to advance to EAM platforms that tie asset performance to business goals.
As the name suggests, enterprise asset management bridges the entire organization, creating a combined database that connects all your departments. For example, EAM software generates reports that provide management a complete view of asset value or inventory investment, so they are able to make informed decisions about budgets, forecasts, and the bigger value chain.
With an EAM solution automating asset-related workflows, your organization will be ready to start the journey to production line automation.
Here’s where to use the automation features contained in your EAM:
Generate PM work orders – Based on technician schedules, maintenance histories, and specialized data fields, EAM software automatically creates PM work orders and delivers notifications that cue teams to move tasks forward.
Report asset data – Asset information stored within an EAM system is readily available, and with customized reporting functionality, the software can calculate key performance indicators and metrics in moments. The reports can be delivered to appropriate users as often as every day, every quarter, or just once a year.
Create inventory purchase orders – Integrating inventory with asset management makes for seamless parts ordering based on maintenance and service requirements, which ensures vital inventory is in stock when needed.
Making the case for automation
When considering the long-term goal of manufacturing automation, break the process down into incremental steps.
Establish clear goals and objectives – Before beginning to implement automation changes, decide on the specific goals you’d like to achieve, such as cost and time savings, quality improvements, etc. EAM software is an ideal way to identify some of these goals, helping you target project success.
Get management buy-in – Backing from upper management helps ensure your automation project gets the budget approval (as well as the company-wide support) it needs to succeed.
Benchmark - If possible, study the successes of other, similar organizations that have started manufacturing automation and learn from their experiences.
Budget appropriately – The budget for an automation project should comprise all costs, including not-so-obvious expenses such as facility modifications, safety, and insurance.
Develop training modules – Provide training for the appropriate staff to use, program, and maintain new automation equipment. Roll out training early, and use a variety of methods (including video and in-person instruction) to accommodate different learning styles.
Grow with confidence
As manufacturing operations expand, using a scalable EAM software lets you seamlessly incorporate all your new equipment assets. This ease of integration means your business and asset base can grow alongside each other.
In addition to being scalable, EAM software stores supplemental asset data, including procedures, manuals, company policies, and other important documents. And with functionality like real-time updates and document control, the information related to your new automation equipment stays up to date and available across your enterprise.
An EAM solution makes strategic decisions transparent. Automated reports help management teams identify trends based on real-world asset data. This lets leaders respond to issues and plan for the future. And with business intelligence, asset data is taken to a higher level, turning insights into dollars-and-cents outcomes.
Automation is the future of manufacturing, and EAM software is the best first step because it underpins the total automation journey. It optimizes preventive maintenance tasks, inventory management, reporting metrics, and, ultimately, drives efficiency and cost savings.
Support your automation goals with ManagerPlus Lightning, the industry-leading EAM software that gets more done, faster. Book a personalized demo today!