A Step-By-Step Guide to Finding Automation Opportunities in Your Facility

The most challenging decision many manufacturers face when adopting robotic automation is: Where to start? In this step-by-step guide, you'll learn what to look for, and how to identify the best opportunities for automation in your facility. Remember, the most important part of automating is just getting started!

March 28th, 2023 5 min read

“This is going to be the year we finally get serious about automation!”

If you’ve been saying, pitching or even thinking about some version of the phrase above over the last few years and haven’t gotten anywhere, the good news is you are not alone. 

It's well understood that automation helps solve labor shortages, contributes to increased revenue, and serves to make manufacturers more resilient. So then, why is it that 90% of manufacturers still do not have a single robot? 

Many manufacturers make the mistake of trying to automate the most complex parts of their manufacturing process when they should be looking at the simplest parts first. This guide is ideal for folks who are looking to get started with automation or perhaps did start, only to receive feedback that what they were trying to automate was “impossible”. Check out our set-by-step guide to help you identify tasks in your facility that you can automate quickly, resulting in faster ROI and many other benefits.

A professional mechanical engineering team working on a laptop at an industrial manufacturing factory.

Step 1: Look for the High Volume, Long-term Tasks

If you're producing a lot of parts for a long time, especially in three shifts, that's a good first candidate that could be a fit for automation solutions. 

Recently, galvanized steel product manufacturer Behrens chose Rapid Robotics for automation solutions. Bill Bellingham, VP of Manufacturing, had this to say about his experience:

“[Since working with Rapid] We’ve seen units per labor hour increase significantly. My biggest takeaway from the whole experience is to start sooner. It was a huge success, and I wish we would have started months earlier.”

Step 2: Pick Simple Tasks

Do you have tasks that require a good bit of repetition or involve fragile parts? These are primary candidates for automation. 

“With RMOs we can allocate human operators to more complicated tasks,” says Tammy Barras, President of Westec Plastics Corporation. “Not only do we get a quick return on our investment, we can run more machines, which equates to more sales.” 

Types of simple tasks that are candidates for automation include:

  1. Tasks that require a motion or grip that tends to lead to injuries, like pinching a part, or palletizing (bending, lifting and stacking).

  2. Tasks that require sustained attention, like a quality inspection of a complex part or series of parts. 

Step 3: Look for the “Blah!”s 

In manufacturing, it’s common to have boring, monotonous, time-consuming ops that staff often want to avoid. There’s also dangerous ops that could pose a safety concern. These are all good candidates to consider. 

Robert Kennedy, VP of Manufacturing & Logistics at Topcon Positioning Systems says, “[Our] manual inspection was 4, maybe 5 minutes. Now [with Rapid], the automated inspection is less than a minute, and with 100% accuracy that catches any defects that otherwise could be missed by a manual inspection.” 

Step 4: Rethink Operational Design 

Now that you've identified some of the best candidates, it's time to take a second look at your facility and identify operations that can be redesigned to enable automation. 

Consider: are there complex tasks that can be broken down into multiple steps? Tasks that can be individually automated to improve throughput or use human labor more effectively? Take a look at these types of operations and consider automating them. 

Step 5: Identify What to Avoid

What types of tasks should you NOT consider for automation? As a general rule of thumb, according to Rapid Robotics VP of Customer Operations Steve Barsanti: "If something is hard for a human, it's probably hard for a robot."

If the tasks in question do not meet the criteria outlined above, they’re likely not good candidates for robotic automation. But if you’re unsure, we’re available for a free consultation

RaaS Changes the Game 

This account from Robert Kennedy at Topcon is a familiar scenario for manufacturers who have recently switched to an RaaS solution: “We hunted around and looked at so many providers. After 10 or so investigations, none of them made sense. It would have been a $400,000 capital investment, and when we stop using the equipment it would have sat idle because repurposing it would not be cost effective. When we came across Rapid, it was a good concept, easy to implement, and low cost thanks to the RaaS model.”

More manufacturers are turning to Robotics as a Service (RaaS) solutions, which eliminate the need for large capital expenditures, service costs and upgrades. 

When looking at tasks to automate, consider how the capital investment required to purchase a robot can set your company back and add pressure to deliver ROI. Whereas, a RaaS solution saves you time, money and comes with full-time service to customize and adapt your automation needs. 

To learn more about RaaS solutions, watch “How to Hire a Manufacturing Robot in 5 Easy Steps”, part of Rapid Robotics’ 2023 webinar series. 

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