The Key to Success

It is clear that automation is becoming increasingly important to success in manufacturing. But what does it take to be successful in automation?

Columns From: 7/29/2014 Modern Machine Shop, ,

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Mark Albert

Mark has been writing his Mark: My Word column every month since January, 1981.

Success in automation is not automatic. It does not happen on its own. Automation must be applied skillfully, with knowledge, experience, originality and boldness. You have to understand what you are doing. And be brave.

A great time and place to become more skilled at applying automation is the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) at Chicago’s McCormick Place, September 8-13, where many of the long-standing exhibitors of machine tools and shop equipment will be showing automated versions of their products. This IMTS also presents an unprecedented opportunity to dig deeper into the technology of automation.

Two shows devoted especially to automation and motion control will be co-located with IMTS. More details about these shows are presented on page 4. I urge you to explore the exhibitors at these shows while you are reviewing new manufacturing solutions in the usual pavilions at IMTS. What you will find is an inside look at automation on the component level—the nuts and bolts, bits and bytes, systems and subsystems that developers, integrators and end users rely on to create progressive industrial automation solutions. Deeper insights and greater familiarity with automation on this level will lead to better decisions about your options for automating manufacturing processes.

Both buyers and builders of machine tools and manufacturing equipment can benefit from getting to know the products on display and the suppliers who stand behind them. For the exhibitors of automation and motion control products, access to both machine buyers and machine builders is a bonus that confirms the preeminence of IMTS as a technology event.

Now is the time to zero in on your options for greater automation. Everyone in manufacturing must become more productive, able to get more output with less input—especially less labor input. This necessity influences every manufacturing enterprise, whether it is the forward-thinking job shop or the major corporation reacting nimbly to global markets.

The reasons to consider automation are urgent. It promises greater consistency and higher quality. It can deliver faster throughput with less work in process. It leads to higher equipment usage and lower cost per part. Yet automation can be challenging. Reliability is critical. Flexibility and reconfigurability can be limited. Startup costs are often high. Complex programming and system interoperability must be addressed. Safety is always a concern. With automation, the stakes are high. For the knowledgeable, however, the rewards are easier to realize and the risks are easier to manage.

Finally, we must remember that the essence of automation is people empowerment. This is the most important lesson learned from the considerable automation that already exists in today’s CNC machines and computerized equipment. The move to even greater levels of automation is ultimately an expansion of the human capacity to create that which satisfies human want and need.

And that is the key to success in manufacturing

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