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Inspired solutions!

06 October 2023

George Thompson, chairman of the British Automation and Robotics Association (BARA) looks at how knowledge is power when it comes to integration expertise

IN MY last column for CDA, I discussed the importance of system integrators and how they are the key to making a new automation project successful. I would like to elaborate further on the importance of what the integrators bring to potential solutions for manufacturing or production issues.

The most obvious thing is knowledge. By this, I do not just mean of their products within their portfolio, but also within their specific area of expertise. One of the first things that most integrators would like to understand is how their potential customer's current processes work.

First step

Personally, I want to have a discussion with the line operatives to learn what ‘improvements’ they have already made to the official process. Once this information is obtained and the detailed models of the parts to be handled or assembled have been studied, we can then start the process of developing the initial concepts for the automated process.

There are times when perhaps an integrator is chosen from an area outside of their area of expertise because of either how they approach challenges or maybe because their expertise is close enough to the manufacturing challenge that it would be deemed to be advantageous for them to at least look through the challenges.  An example of this could be for a company that is known for its work in pharmaceutical or aerospace being asked to look at a project in food and drink because of its experience in traceability control procedures. Another may be for an integrator known for automotive / tier1 experience being asked to look at a project in general industry to give insights on how to rework the end product with, for example, automated assembly in mind.

Cross pollination

This also links back to an article that I wrote in May last year, which describes the advantages of ‘cross pollination’ between industry sectors. In this article, I described how no single industry has all of the answers and sometimes the inspiration for a solution will have origins in a completely unrelated application.

As another example, I recently was looking at a project where the product needed to have a specific process that is unusual for the raw product – sorry, but I cannot elaborate more as the project is protected by an NDA! However, I can divulge that inspiration for the solution came from a machine tending application that I sold several years ago. The only similarity between the projects is that they use robots to achieve the end result. They are completely different industries, and the materials could not be more different. It was only as a direct result of looking at the information gathered from my site visit and one of those ‘operator improvements’ to the manufacturing process that made me even think – I wonder if this would work…

So, if you are an end customer and you have a manufacturing challenge, when you are researching system integrators, make sure that you carry out your due diligence and make sure that the integrator that you are thinking about engaging with has a wide range of experience within its pool of employees. You never know where the inspiration for the solution you have been looking for may come from!

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. Whilst you are there, why not register for our next Roundtable discussion. You could also 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.