Automation is an Opportunity, Not a Cost

Automation isn’t exactly a new concept and there are a number of big industries and countries that do it well. Unfortunately Australia isn’t one of them, not even close, and to put it frankly, it’s a little embarrassing. Some of our companies are actually outsourcing key areas to other countries, producing in many cases a further substandard system.

The automation discussion is often a conversation greeted with a lack of enthusiasm and understanding. It’s generally not the focal point of the industries it features in, so it often gets pushed to the bottom of the pile with quick decisions based purely on superficial initial cost assessments. Yes, cost is an important factor, but only looking at the initial cost of a project is short-sighted as it ignores many subsequent larger impacts, and here, in general, is where Australia falls down.

The conversation had in many other countries around automation is not purely focused on the initial cost, but also the opportunity cost of a given implementation. What opportunities is your company missing out on due to a sub-standard automation system? When your systems fail and your production line stops for 10 minutes, an hour, perhaps a week, how much does that halt in production cost the company? What about when completion of a new facility is delayed, preventing startup or handover, with many millions of dollars in capital sitting idle? Do some quick sums now, I can imagine the numbers aren’t appealing. This small 1% of your facility can bring you to your knees.

It comes back to that age old adage, “pay peanuts, get monkeys”. Countries such as Germany and Japan, arguably some the best manufacturers in the world, place focus on not only producing quality and desirable products, but producing the products efficiently, running their production lines like clockwork. They achieve this a number of ways, one of which is knowing the importance of investing in a quality automation system, and working with the right long term partners. They look at the initial costs associated yes, but also the opportunities lost if they employ a cheaper automation system with less functionality, support and capacity.  The “cheaper” system is generally not designed and built on a well thought out methodology aimed at the end operational requirements.

Let’s break this down into the form of an everyday example. You’ve just bought a new desk and in all honesty, you didn’t take too much time to pick it out. After all, a desk is a desk right? Wrong. Some desks may look the same, but take a look below. The nuts and bolts that contribute to the desks stability, all of these design elements purposefully used to strengthen the quality of the product, are the difference between a solid desk and one that sways and buckles. The same can be said with control systems. On the surface they may look the same, but are they? It’s important to look below at how they’re designed, configured and programmed to optimise process operation, maintenance and intended business considerations. It’s the glue used, and it’s the smooth joins that count. It’s the detail that’s important, and it shouldn’t be overlooked.

So on your next project, don’t forget to look below the surface and scrutinise the projects stability. Take the time to question the functionality of the control system and the competence of the automation team you’re choosing. It’s a question that should be answered properly from the initial stages of a project, with the end user in mind. After all, projects start and finish, but the delivered system will need to run for years afterwards. It’s important to play the long game. It will not only save you money, but may very well be the difference between success or failure.

Coengineer is Australia’s leading team of automation specialists. Our dynamic team of engineers and project managers are experts at driving bottom line business objectives through automation. If you’ve got an automation challenge, or are looking for a long-term partner to support you, don’t hesitate to get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.

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