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April 2014

Accounting for the Unexpected in Automation

Rachel Greenberg writes marketing and technical content for Automation GT in Carlsbad, CA.

When a company has decided that they would like to move towards automating their processes, it can be very challenging to know how much of and which portions of the process are appropriate for automation.

Many times, a company may want to increase their productivity and cut down on costs by automating. However, if a company has never used automation before, they may not notice all of the ways that their process will present challenges to an engineer.

For example, if you are automating an assembly process that involves the selection and placement of paper or plastic cards, you might not consider the impact that something as simple as static electricity will have on the automation of your process, but as a small factor, it can actually change the functionality and success of your whole system. While for a human, it would be a small inconvenience to deal with the plastic or paper cards sticking together, for a machine this could be a much bigger challenge.

Learning to Communicate with Your Engineer

n these sorts of situations, engineers have to think of creative solutions to unforeseen problems. If an engineer has already built the rest of the machine or system, he or she will have to come up with a creative way to integrate a solution for this problem into the existing machine without interfering with the machine’s ability to operate. If he or she has to add new equipment to control the static cling, he or she must do so in such a way that the new equipment does not block the range of motion of the rest of the equipment, and in the sometimes very tight and controlled operations of an automated system, this can be a big challenge.

For this reason, it is very important that when you communicate your goals for your automated system to an engineer, that you are very specific with the functioning of your process, and the conditions of your space. During the design stage of production, communication is critical in making your machine optimally efficient with minimal chance of unforeseen problems.

If you have communicated all of this information with your engineer, then at the testing stage of your machine you are far more likely to have successful runs. If this is your first time with automation, you should pay extra attention to the design and testing stages of the development of your machine to ensure that you have considered all of the ways that your process is and is not appropriate for automation. This will also allow you to determine what portions of the process are better performed by humans, and which parts would be better for machines so that you can automated your system in a responsible and efficient way.