Skip to main content

Top 10 Things to Know About Custom Automation

[This content was originally put together by Todd Bauernerfeind for a webinar for PMM: Plastics, Machinery & Manufacturing Magazine. Login or register to watch the recorded webinar.]

Automating manufacturing processes or quality control processes is high on the consideration list for most manufacturing companies. Automation will not only improve product development and throughput, but also alleviate the labor shortage many companies are facing. Dive deeper into the understanding custom automation with Summit Engineered Automation:  

  1. Custom automation can be a practical alternative to overseas labor
  • Custom automation of processes can decrease production-related labor costs by combining multiple steps into one compact machine, making it cost-effective to remain at home.
  1. The cost of investment is high, but so is the return on investment
  • When planning custom automation for your processes, the inclination is to look at the major components (robots or electrical control systems) and add up their costs + engineering hours.
  • This approach doesn’t take into account the processes that provide safety and smooth transitions throughout the system (light curtains, safety guarding, hoses, cables) and allows the components to work together.
  • Lead times on robots can be 16-18 weeks, and lead times on most other major items average around 8 weeks. With the lead-time on components being so long, a custom automation project can take twice as long as you anticipate it.

3. Cheap and fast vs good and reliable

  • If you want a fast custom automation solution, you’ll end up rushing through design and assembly, thereby risking your chances of excluding critical measures, such as for safety or quality.
  • “Good and reliable” takes longer, lasts longer, and is safer.

4. Custom automation technologies are constantly evolving

  • Just because you bought something five years ago and it works well, it doesn’t mean that it’s still the best technology on the market.
  • Products are improving, and new technologies are constantly emerging.

5. It can be difficult for companies inexperienced in custom automation to articulate and visualize what they need

  • If you can’t articulate what you want, you don’t need it.
  • A reputable custom automation company will help suggest better options to make your process run smoothly.

6. Custom automation reveals flaws

  • People are often unaware of how much inconsistency there is in their processes and the quality of their parts until we start looking at custom automation. Inconsistency and automation don’t get along!
  • Companies should tighten up procedures, tolerances, dimensions, accuracy and so on across the board. If not, the automated process won’t work, and you will hate the machine.

7. Some processes cannot be automated

  • Although we would love to automate every process, sometimes the cost of the machine versus the payback makes it unwise.
  • A custom automation company with integrity will be honest and upfront with you about the potential investment vs. anticipated return – good or bad.

8. Your custom automation vendor can go out of business fast

  • Most custom automation companies are small businesses that design machines one at a time.
  • When purchasing custom automation machines, 60-65% of the price is for materials needed to build the machine. If the machine is not paid for until the end of the project, your small custom automation vendor ends up paying for the machine and its design until it is complete. This leaves them cash-strapped until the very end of the project, unable to take on new work, limited in developing current staff or hiring people with additional expertise, and so on.
  • Be prepared to put money down on a custom automation project.

9. Your company still needs employees

  • Keep in mind that depending on the complexity of your intelligent automation service, you may need dedicated humane expertise to make sure it’s working consistently and at peak performance. 
  • Some processes need superior software and tech experts close at hand to responsibly operate an automated manufacturing system. 
  • And in an industry where the technology is constantly evolving, employee training might be a regular factor in your automation investment.

10. A total custom automation effort will require maintenance and spare parts to sustain reliability and a high uptime

  • All machines need to have routine preventative maintenance performed on them.
  • Machine parts will inevitably wear out, and therefore spare parts need to be maintained and ready for quick replacement to keep your lines up and running.
  • Also, sensors and vision systems on occasion need to be adjusted, tightened back into place and recalibrated to maintain the machine’s reliability.

Connect with Summit Engineered Automation today to discuss your manufacturing processes and next steps you could take with automation.