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Don't Just React to Problems, Get an Automation Roadmap

Gain process reliability and leverage emerging technologies by understanding your operations, processes, threats and opportunities.

Concept Systems' CEO Michael Gurney
Concept Systems' CEO Michael Gurney

Do you have a three- to five-year automation roadmap for your manufacturing operation? If not, I urge you to establish one. Regardless of the state of your plant today, there is value in going through the process.

If your facility is outdated and struggling, the benefits are obvious. But even if you run the highest tech facility around, it’s helpful to consider emerging technologies and how you might apply them down the road. Creating a roadmap to do this is a matter of understanding your operation, your processes and the threats and opportunities you face.

For most manufacturers, the reason they haven't done this is that they get stuck in a reactive mode. Something breaks, so they fix it. In and of itself, of course, that’s necessary. The problem is when you do not address why things break, and all you ever do is fix things. As equipment ages, the breakdowns become more frequent. The fixes become harder. They take longer. Access to spare parts becomes increasingly limited. Valuable production time is lost every time.

Getting stuck in reactive mode ultimately compounds your problem. The more something breaks, the more crucial production time becomes, putting more pressure on fixing problems quickly on a piece of equipment that increasingly demands more time to fix.

An automation roadmap can help you escape this trap. It will establish automation standards and prioritize upgrades, putting the most critical, at-risk assets first. Depending on the state of your plant, you may face an initial stream of upgrades to simply gain reliability. Your budget will dictate the pace at which you can climb out of a reactive mode.

If reliability is your primary challenge, plan a budget that addresses reliability first and foremost. Added functionality, and cost, can be saved for later. This does a couple of things: It gives you a better shot at getting your budget approved, and it will help your management gain confidence that you are on the right track. That, in turn, will smooth the way for approval of the next project.

Once you’ve tackled reliability, you will have more time—and money—to start looking at how to leverage emerging technologies and open new opportunities. They’re out there. You just need to look.

Next month's blog will focus on how to get started developing an automation roadmap.

Michael Gurney is CEO of Concept Systems Inc., a Certified member of the Control System Integrators Association. See Concept Systems’ profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange.

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