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Creating a Prioritized List for Your Automation Roadmap

Identify where existing capabilities are furthest from aligning with what will be needed to achieve business and production goals.

Michael Gurney, Concept Systems CEO Michael Gurney
Michael Gurney, Concept Systems CEO Michael Gurney

In my last blog, I urged manufacturers to establish an “automation roadmap” to help plan and prioritize technological upgrades over a set period of time.

As I travel and talk to customers, I am encouraged to hear that more and more folks are doing exactly this. Manufacturers, in general, understand how technology can boost quality, efficiency and production in their plants. And many of them are realizing the value of proactively deploying new technologies as they emerge. Maximizing these returns is what the automation roadmap is about.

With so many folks catching on, the chances are your competition has an automation roadmap in place, regardless of whether you have one or not. And simply put, if they have one and you don’t, you’re in danger of being outpaced.

No one wants to be left behind, so read on to learn how to get started.

Your automation roadmap has to support the overall business objectives of your company. Before you get started, make sure you understand exactly what your three- to five-year vision is. If this has not yet been established, all is not lost. We can proceed without one, but parallel to your efforts here, you should encourage upper management to create the vision.

Assuming you understand the larger business goals, the next step is identifying the production related aspects of them and how your existing production lines stack up against what will be needed. You will likely run into one or more of the following production goals: increase production (increase in volume or in product diversity), increase efficiency (reduce waste or reduce cost), improve quality, and reduce risk (improve safety). There certainly could be others in addition to those I’ve listed here. Include them all.

If you do not have access to your business goals, focus on efficiency and reliability. Under most circumstances, if you improve efficiency and reliability without negatively impacting production, quality or safety, you will be in line with business objectives whether they are specifically defined or not.

Once you have identified the production goals, you need to weight and rate them. For example, consider how important each production goal is to ensuring the company meets its goals, and how your current operation stacks up.

What we are trying to do here is prioritize and determine where improvements will fit onto the timeline of your roadmap. The most important goals—where your production doesn't stack up to future expectations—will generally have a better ROI and should be tackled first. Establish a list using this process and organize it by either production goal or production line, then ... congratulations! You will have taken the first step to generating a quality automation roadmap.

In my next blog, I will discuss using this list to continue developing the roadmap. Specifically, I will address how to start putting together a budget for what you want to achieve.

Remember, if you haven’t started using an automation roadmap, your competition likely is. In which case, it won’t be long before they start making your operation look irrelevant.

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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