Skip to main content

Managing the Risky Business of Factory Automation Systems with a Sharp, Agile Process

Integrating factory automation systems often begins with high expectations. But it’s not uncommon for such projects to run off the rails.  A sound implementation process focused on risk mitigation is key to successful automation implementations.

The Project Management Institute’s guidelines explicitly state that “Automation projects require careful planning, tests, and execution. Otherwise, by the time you realize you’ve made a mistake, it could be too late to prevent a business impact.”  This is at the core of the necessary collaboration that must be present when establishing industrial automation project success.  It is a surefire practice that leads to successful outcomes.

Summit Engineered Automation has developed a process that leads to 100% success. Focused on risk mitigation, we work to debug automation and production problems long before we go live with an automation system.  This entails proof of concept iterations that are effective at uncovering subtle issues   that cause problems.    The cornerstone of our risk mitigation is exploring risk areas and proving them out with iterations that remediate them and arrive at the best solutions – before we get to a final design phase.

Principle Elements of a Successful Implementation of Factory Automation Solutions

1. Collaboration.  From the outset of our relationship, Summit has a unique tactic we employ: we listen.

Listening to customer objectives and expectations, as well as all the anticipated bumps along the road, is crucial.  We engage customers through a series of fact-finding meetings that evoke essential pieces of information necessary to incorporate into our design phase.

In listening we are ever vigilant and careful to ferret out the risky parts of an implementation.  With laser focus we find the root cause of the risk or problem as early as possible.

In the early stages, many things look and sound good in preliminary discussions and designs.  But without proper collaboration and intent listening, things can go wrong – at the worst possible time, in the worst possible place.  Collaboration and listening are valuable tools to avoid such problems.

2. Identify Risk in All Areas.  Problems surface in many different areas that can impact the entire integration.   For example, risks and problems may originate within the automation technology, its engineering, or in the communication and planning within the automation implementation team.  Our process focuses on watching for red flags in these areas, based on our experience, and extinguishing them as soon as we find them.  

3. Fail Fast.  If things are going wrong, let them – but at a stage of implementation that’s easiest to control.  When we engage customers, our collaboration and intense listening may prompt us to be cautiously optimistic about hardware, software, and interoperability.  If things go sour, let them fail fast and early so we don’t get behind the eight ball and subsequently derail the project.  It’s much better to fix problems earlier than later – when the damage is wide and deep and our later milestones approach. 

4. Plan Your Work. Work Your Plan.  Work well planned is most likely to be work well executed.  Project teams must share objectives and communicate them clearly in a workable plan, accessible by all.  Such objectives include areas such as budgeting, planning, engineering, and follow-on support.  The mere act of having a plan and working that plan to include all the essential areas is instrumental in avoiding problems and fostering success.  It works.

5. Transparency.  In working with customers, it’s critical to be transparent in all areas of the project.  Our bill of materials is plain and open for all to see.  We do not mark up our hardware and are open and honest about the parts and components used.  Customers can see all facets of  the progress we’ve made.  This  enables many sets of eyes to see all interactions within the project. Transparency is a moral high ground in the implementation of factory automation systems and system integration.  It provides benefits throughout the project and pays dividends every time. 

A Robust Agile Process Mitigates Risk and Yields Success for Industrial Automation

Partnerships usually start out well in automation projects.  Many competitors build fine products and plans.  However, many plans disappear in time as automation suppliers have a hard time enduring a project that goes bad.  This is a continuous loop of aggressively pursuing projects to make up for lost ones and results in a downward spiral. 

Taking a careful approach up front with a robust agile process with utmost transparency, collaboration, and excellent communication.  Doing so will help identify problems early, keep the implementation and integration of factory automation projects on track and ultimately successful and fruitful for production.

Have a project in mind?  Want to learn more about us?  Let’s talk and discuss how our process will benefit you and your automation integration.