Talk about automation and minds typically turn to visions of robots whirring around an industrial space. But while robotics certainly has a place at large consumer packaged goods printers, where a single job may run for multiple shifts, automation at high-mix shops usually looks very different.
In this type of shop, different likely means smaller and more specialized, but it certainly doesn’t mean less important or less sophisticated. Intelligent automation increases speed, but it should also improve consistency. Machines don’t get tired and they don’t lose focus. So if, for example, you need to join two materials together with consistent pressure, the right automation will get the job done with fewer errors.
There are benefits beyond speed and consistency, too. There’s an old military quote that says, “the best way to improve morale is with firepower.” The more tools employees have to do their job well, in other words, the happier they’ll be. And at a time when many printers are struggling to attract and retain talent, automation can provide an important edge.
So, automation is important. Great. But it’s also expensive. That’s the chicken-and-egg challenge. You need to automate in order to be profitable, but you need profits in order to pay for automation. So, where do you start? Here are a few smart steps to get you going.
- Take inventory of your current operation. Observe your facilities and identify where operators are spending the most time. Once you understand your processes, it will be easier to identify areas where automation can make the biggest difference.
- Talk with vendors. Build the relationships you need to get a clear picture of the options that are available. Even better, build the kind of relationships where vendors will tell you when something better is just around the corner, or allow you to trade up for minimal cost when the next best thing comes.
- Most importantly, pay attention to your customers’ needs. Work with them to understand what they’re trying to accomplish. You may even help them identify solutions they didn’t know they needed. Find tools that will help clients automate in unexpected ways. Making customer-centric automation decisions and focusing on incremental wins makes it possible to identify where automation will be most beneficial and implement changes more quickly. This also protects you from spending money on equipment you’ll never use.
Whether you’re doing it with big swings or base hits, automation is a powerful way to score points.
Read more about automation in this article from PackagePRINTING, featuring comments from Meyers vice president of operations for RMS, Christopher Dillon.