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Cross pollination to drive down cost

11 May 2022

What can one sector learn from another when it comes to automation? George Thompson, chairman of the British Automation and Robotics Association (BARA), looks at the value of knowledge sharing across different industries

I HAVE been involved in many conversations throughout my career where there has been a comment made about ‘not having the budget of the Automotive companies’. Personally, I’m not always convinced that the size of the automation budget is as important as the thought process that goes on before a decision to automate is taken. Whilst a realistic budget is important, having an open mind is equally imperative.

In the Automotive sector, it is typically a given that to keep production costs to a minimum, automation is the key. This means that products are designed with a ‘how can we automate this’ process from the outset.  It doesn’t matter if we are talking about traditional powertrain vehicles or electrified vehicles, the same discussions need to take place if we are automating the production of an engine or a battery pack. Typically, there are strict specifications set out describing every type of automation component that should be used, from controls to robots, to pneumatic components, through to safety hardware – sometimes to the detriment of the project as technology is moving at an incredible rate.

There is a tremendous amount that other market sectors can learn from the Automotive Sector, but the same could also be said about parts of Aerospace, Food and Drink, Pharmaceutical and to some extent ‘General Industry’. Is one sector better than the others? The simple answer is yes, and no. Each sector has things they do exceptionally well, and things they could improve on. For me, the important thing is to network all of the sectors together and to learn from each other.  I like to refer to this as cross pollination. 

Continuous improvement

What cross pollination will give us all is a hybridisation of best practices from each sector. This, however, cannot be a single activity. It would need to be a continuous improvement process – like Six Sigma or Kaizen. 

What is the one thing that each sector has in common? Simple, the desire to improve the manufacturing process by driving out excess cost. In a large proportion of applications, the easiest thing to target is waste. As in my previous article, waste can manifest itself in many forms. It can be a quality issue, inefficient process – the list goes on and on.

This is where the open mind I mentioned earlier comes into play.  As soon as a decision is made that automation should be considered, get as many reputable integrators in as necessary from a wide range of industry sectors for some initial brainstorming. Just because something works to some extent as a manual process, does not always mean that the same steps are needed when implementing automation. Whether you are making a vehicle or a patisserie, sometimes a new set of eyes will see a better way of producing the end product. I know that when I look at a new project, I call on everything I have learned throughout my career as well as looking at how it is produced currently. It’s surprising where inspiration for an automation solution can come from sometimes.

If you would like to start your automation journey, but don’t know where to start – I would highly recommend visiting the BARA website, detailed below, where we have outlined several topics under the Expert Advice section to give some initial information.  While you’re there, why not register for our next Roundtable discussion. Feel free to watch some of our previous Roundtables again as there is likely to be just the information you have been searching for contained within the discussions.