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​​Transforming Design for Automation

Guidance from Digital Experiences

​To stay competitive in today’s market, automotive manufacturing executives need to consider how to accelerate automation within their factories and better apply many of the new technologies and practices coming from digital initiatives.

​Kalypso and Rockwell Automation have years of experience applying digital technologies in operations. We leveraged these experiences to offer guidelines and considerations for manufacturing leaders to help maximize productivity or improve quality with ”Design for Automation."

"Design for Automation" refers to the practice of intentionally designing processes, systems or products with the goal of optimizing them for automation

Automation involves the use of technology and machinery to perform tasks with minimal human intervention. Designing for automation is crucial in various industries to enhance efficiency, reduce costs and improve overall productivity.

Key Aspects of Design for Automation

​As manufacturing leaders embark on this journey, a comprehensive understanding of the below aspects of Design for Automation can set an organization up for success. ​Here‘s what executives should consider:

  • Simplicity and Standardization: Designs, manufacturing and assembly processes should be simplified and standardized to make them more amenable to automation and should be conceived from the start with automation in mind. For example:
    • Stop station processing is easier to automate than continuous motion processes
    • ​Flexible parts are often difficult to automate
    • ​Single-direction assembly is easier than multidimensional assembly
    • ​Assembly of parts that don’t need to be secured or clamped is a big plus
  • Digital Tools: Leverage digital twins of planned processes for rapid, virtual iterations to improve designs and expected performance from the start. Iterate virtually. If possible, employ genetic algorithms to further optimize designs beyond the obvious.
  • Modularity: Breaking down complex systems or products into modular components makes it easier to automate individual parts. This approach allows for flexibility and scalability in the automation process as well as providing the ability to tailor. Also, consider software code, technical architecture, product features and packaging/dunnage when modularizing designs. These modules can be re-used to further reduce variation and improve overall performance.
  • Clear Communication Protocols: Establishing clear communication protocols between different components of a system is essential for successful automation. This ensures seamless & timely interaction and data exchange between automated elements.
  • Integration of Sensors and Feedback Systems: Automation systems often rely on sensors and feedback mechanisms to adapt to changing conditions. Designing with these elements in mind enables the automation system to respond intelligently to variations in the environment to ensure the next part produced is a good part.
  • Ease of Maintenance: Designing for automation includes considering ease of maintenance. Automated systems should be designed in a way that allows for straightforward troubleshooting, repairs and updates. Also, where and how the technical documentation (drawings, schematics, layouts, specifications, and spare parts lists) is stored and cataloged can make it easy for technicians to find critical information for specific equipment when required.
  • User Interface Design: If human interaction is still required, designing user interfaces that are intuitive and user-friendly can enhance the overall effectiveness of the automated system.
  • Scalability: Designing for automation should consider future scalability needs. Systems should be able to adapt to changes in production volumes or requirements without significant redesign. Modularity and simplicity, as discussed earlier, enhance this dimension dramatically.
  • Energy Efficiency: Consideration of energy consumption is crucial. Designing for automation should aim to optimize energy usage to make the automated processes environmentally sustainable. Certain technical selections can impact this dramatically (for example, optical communication is less energy-intensive than traditional methods).
  • Cost-Effectiveness: While the initial investment in automation can be substantial, designing for cost-effectiveness involves considering the long-term benefits, reduced operational costs, and increased efficiency that automation can bring.

Comprehensive and Holistic Approach

​Transforming design organizations for more effective automation requires a comprehensive and holistic approach that goes beyond these foundational technical aspects of the automation design listed above. It also includes broader operational and business considerations. Collaboration between engineers, designers and other stakeholders is necessary to create systems that are not only automated but also are effective, reliable and sustainable. A leader needs to incorporate these additional elements to complement the process work. Here are several of these dimensions to consider that we found critical:

  • Automation Programs: Manage broad automation efforts as programs with multiple “capability building” projects and/or “capability deployment” projects to clearly define “done” for each effort. Blend these efforts over time to maintain sound governance even with many overlapping projects running concurrently. Also, maintain a backlog of automation projects at each site or for each new product program, and carefully manage their execution versus expected returns/benefits. 
  • Alignment to Strategy: Solicit and win executive support for automation programs by directly tying the initiative outcomes to corporate goals and objectives. This helps secure funding and support, even during difficult economic conditions, which are sure to occur. Message this linkage of automation initiatives to corporate strategy frequently, consistently, and emphatically in day-to-day communications.
  • Factory Resource Participation: Include local factory resources on your automation development teams from the beginning (e.g., during concept design) to improve the reception of ideas to automate traditionally manual roles/processes. Many factory workers will be extremely threatened by these actions. You will need factory staff directly supporting to build upon their experience sets with initiatives at their site. As adjustments and tweaking are required, local support is essential. Also, as the workforce ages and shrinks overall, work to win staff support as preparation for future growth, considering the added labor constraints. 
  • Playbook: Every automation project should have a playbook to train any technical supporting resources in the plant to maintain and continuously improve the process over time. They need to understand aspects of design considerations as well as specifics of what to do in various situations and where to find critical information. This playbook should include technical credential programs that expire over time, requiring re-certifications. 
  • External Campaigns: For initiatives that potentially impact suppliers (for example, a loading dock automation project that impacts shippers/arriving drivers or product sequencing), you need talking points and a campaign to promote support from them for the internal initiative. Automated unload capabilities could be hindered, or worse, if the delivery vendors are not supportive. Imagine truckloads potentially arriving with pallets with tampered labels or other issues.
  • Data Considerations: Consider and address cyber vulnerabilities at all levels of automation equipment and ensure the latest systems and considerations (including approaches, techniques, software, firmware, containerization zones, and conduits).  Maintain systematic data backup strategies (e.g., 3, 2, 1 and grandfather/father/son backups) for programs, performance data, etc.

​As a seasoned manufacturing executive designs a transformational effort to accelerate automation, the above list can provide a sense check of their plan’s completeness.

​Transformational efforts typically require a few early elements: quick wins to illustrate the value potential, a solid business case that can keep a leadership team aligned on the destination, and the logic of why this focus is so critical for long-term organizational success. Kalypso and Rockwell Automation work with our clients every day to provide this type of specialized guidance and support.