Investing in automating a tool equipment solution can be an intimidating process but has a number of benefits. There are several things you need to consider before automating. Determining whether or not your application, your process and your team are ready for automation. This is an effort that can be between your company and the automation partner or fastening system partner who can guide you through that decision making. Choosing a good partner is an obvious step. This list includes some of the important things to address before you kick off the project.

1. Start Simple

Start simple when considering any level of automation for the first time. It can be easy to get excited about a completely automated system running 24/7 in your facility. To ensure success, start simple and demonstrate a few quick wins. Deciding on moving from a handheld power tool to different levels of automation is not like buying a catalog product and turning it on. Start with a smaller project, a single work cell or a single assembly process. It could be as simple as adding an articulating arm to a handheld power tool to alleviate fatigue and strain on the operator. At this point, focus on getting your team comfortable with the idea of what automation is needed and agree on next steps. The easiest way to show management return on investment is to scale back the concept and automate one core piece. The scope of work should be written internally, before any integrators and partners are brought into the picture. Stick to a plan with less risk and build upon it as you achieve those small, quick wins.

2. Plan to Build for the Future

In your planning above, ensure you also map out your end goals for the team and for your plant. Evaluate areas with bottlenecks, quality or productivity issues, interview operators, and consider what improvements you would like to add to the automation strategy. You may find in your evaluation, it is not the operator, but it is a secondary operation that is causing the hurdle. Assembly automation is a multi-step process, it’s important to plan out the stages and not shut yourself off to evaluating all areas of the process and the opportunities to improve.

3. Build in a Service and Support Plan

With your project plan in place and your future projects identified, is important to ensure with any project, you include a plan on who and how you will service, support and maintain the new systems and approach. If the plan is internal or external, make sure the team is adequately trained or that the proper connection and communication is made with the supplier.

4. Picking the Right Partner

Automation projects will normally go through a formal procurement process. Most companies require three quotes from interested companies. If you have worked on the project and qualification of the project plan with an automation partner or fastening system partner, make sure they are prepared for this process. There are many integrators and they may specialize in different aspects of automation and integration. If they do not specialize in this area or have no background in your project, they could cause more harm than good. Choosing the quote with the lowest price is also a dangerous pathway. If an integrator is underbidding, they may not be capable or understanding your project or the scope of work resulting in higher charges on the backend. It is very important to examine each quote to ensure that you are comfortable with the concept, but also the partners references and experience with fastening assembly processes and similar systems or projects.

5. Be Specific with Components

You need to be specific about the parts and components you want quoted in your automated blind rivet or threaded fastening system. If you have worked with a fastening system partner, this step is critical to ensure that what you have specified and potentially tested may be changed out for substitutes that will not work as you expected. If you don’t say anything, a general integrator will select the cheapest option or the brand. You want to ensure the integrity and quality of the system you specified is carried through to the system that is delivered.

6. Clear Mid-point and Runoff Reviews and Expectations

When you kick off the project, you will want a routine update throughout the process. Identify a mid-point review to see designs and hear project updates. In the same vein, identify clearly with your project team, what will constitute a finished project. In smaller projects, a video buy-off of a smaller system may be acceptable. In a larger system, do you have acceptance metrics that you would like to see achieved? Make sure these expectations are clear. For your internal team, refer to #1. Make sure you have circle back to the clear goals/Key Performance Indicators you identified from the start. This will form the investment justification, i.e. what you trying to improve and by how much: Productivity up? Quality costs down? Lost time due to operator injuries down?

Ultimately, once you've determined that your application, process and team are ready for automation, choosing the right partner is critical. Let STANLEY® Assembly Technologies help guide your company through that decision-making. And finally, don't forget to celebrate a milestone or a win along the way. Keep the teams motivated with highlights and achievements!