When to Automate? – Analyse your OEE indicators to get the right answer

Earlier in 2013, Optima’s managing director, Michael Hill, did a short interview for the leading Control Engineering publication. Here is a short preview of what Michael had to say regarding when the right time for an automation project is.

What circumstances would suggest that a proposed automation project would be a good idea?

When considered by an end-user, there are two overriding circumstances that dictate when an automation project is warranted:

  1. Vulnerability due to obsolescence of equipment (and loss of support expertise) and
  2. When either a process or a machine’s efficiency performance (OEE) is so poor that it damages a business’ financial performance and competitiveness i.e. from excessive downtime, poor quality metrics and/or slow run-rates.

From an OEM’s perspective, once a manufacturer has established that they have a market for their particular product, the same operational efficiency questions lie at the heart of the investment decision making process. For the OEM to be competitive, cutting edge automation is essential too.

Have you ever had to convince a client that a proposed automation project wasn’t going to be cost effective?

I have, but not at the cost of the project. I have experience of occasionally having to advise a small number of customers that their proposed automation project would not be cost effective because the control methods they were going to use would not provide a consistent and reliable machine operation. Their existing proposal would lead to their machine operators finding the machine operation difficult, being hard to set-up and maintain with any reliability, compromising product quality and production rates.

What’s the one key factor that tells you an automation project is going to be worth the effort?

That is a simple one. If I can see that once complete the project will significantly improve one or more of the 3 OEE components (availability, quality and production rate) then I know the client will have a good experience and get the returns they expect.

Mark Lewis of Beckhoff Automation takes on a different perspective on what and when to automate. “Modular, flexible embedded PCs, programmable with one software platform, can lower the entry point for when to automate.” Read the key considerations he discusses for Control Engineering here.