Guide: How to Get Started With Robots (2)

Søren Peter Johansen

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Guide: How to Get Started With Robots (2)

The Danish Technological Institute (DTI) has, through their work and contacts with large numbers of production companies, identified three main factors that come between companies and the potential gains from automation. The three factors are: Lack of time, lack of skill and lack of technology.

Therefore DTI is focusing on how to overcome these obstacles and increase your company's productivity and thereby secure your future existence in a globally competitive market place. Our last newsletter gave advice on overcoming lack of time. Now we have reached the next hurdle.

OBSTACLE #2: LACK OF SKILL
"We have no company employees who know enough about robots," is a statement we often hear. But this is a problem with several solutions. We offer the following six tips.

1. Start with an analysis
First and foremost, you must map the complexity of the automation that is necessary for your business. There are generally two tracks. If you are looking for a simple handling robot, just start. But a process robot  requires that you prepare well before making a decision.

DTI always uses our proprietary tool, the Genefke scale, when we assess and evaluate companies' maturity and readiness for automation tasks. The scale is divided into five stages, where Step 1 can be seen as that your specific needs can almost be found off the shelf, and Step 5 requires brand new research in the field.

A Genefke analysis divides the task into its components and measures the company using many predefined criteria, and this analysis tells exactly where the company needs help and knowledge.

2. Educate, employ, consult or share people with experience in automation and robots
After the initial mapping analysis you can begin to make decisions about how the task can be solved - and who should solved it.

You can choose to send your own employees on training courses. The advantage here is that you exploit a resource in your own production with a thorough knowledge of the production. Some employees are perhaps already walking around with a few good ideas after having wandered up and down the production corridors for years - they just lack tools. DTI's new qualification - automation navigator in production - is intended for this underrated target group.

You can also choose to hire new employees. Here it is important to hire people who have tried automation before. However, it is also important to hire people who have a thorough knowledge of the desired automated process. You should in other words not set people to program a welding robot if they cannot weld.

Finally, there is also the possibility that you can consult someone with robot skills or hire an automation expert who is shared across multiple companies.

3. Involve all levels of the organization
It is important to emphasize that you should involve employees at all levels of the organization when you  automate. It is not enough to involve those who are good at screwing screws or programming robots. It is equally important to involve those who can think strategically, motivate employees, realize synergies and demonstrate the patience that is often needed to launch automation projects, drive them and lead them to the end. So management is just as relevant to include, since negotiating with employees, suppliers and customers is a big part of an automation process.

When we talk about a lack of skills, we often look at the man on the floor. But the arrow points both up and down the company hierarchy. Often, it's just as much about lack of automation knowledge at management level, which a new study by IDA, the Danish Engineer Association, also emphasizes.

4. Involve suppliers and customers
Suppliers and customers have considerable knowledge, which you can learn from. Often suppliers have knowledge of both successful and unsuccessful automation projects in their network, clientele, etc. The same is true for customers. Therefore, a company can often indirectly obtain considerable knowledge from partners on the same level as the company itself by seeking knowledge up and down the supply chain.

5. Select one or more automation partners
The suppliers that you contract to automate your production need to know about your processes and products. Therefore, choose one or more partners and stick with them rather than shop around and buy the cheapest option every time. Every time you hire a new supplier, you have to start over to teach the supplier about your products and processes, which can be a big and often unbudgeted cost. One often gets a solution that does not necessarily make sense in the precise circumstances and production process you find yourself in.

If your potential automation project is situated at the complex end of the Genefke scale, it is strongly advised that you buy the plant from your supplier already commissioned. This requires the suppliers to deal with how to get your entire process to run.

6. Search, share and develop knowledge
Participate in networks, inspirational meetings and travel. In Denmark you have DIRA, the Danish Robot Network, with 150 members and 12+ annual visits to end users. Network and inspiration trips provides good opportunities for learning about automation across enterprises. Consider participating in development and innovation projects, if you want to be even more advanced compared to your competitors.