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How to choose which manufacturing process to automate first (2 of 5)

June 29, 2024 | Quinn Harker


A challenging task for any manufacturer starting their industrial automation journey is deciding which process to automate first. There can be numerous contenders, all vying for the boost in productivity and efficiency that automation can bring. However, you shouldn’t start with just any process on your manufacturing floor—you need to find the one that is just right.

This guide contains the key factors you should consider when choosing the first manufacturing process to automate. It is the second blog in the ‘Kickstarting Your Automation Journey’ series. 

Start with simpler processes

Start with smaller, less complex processes to gain experience and build momentum. These are often considered “low-risk, quick wins” because they can be automated swiftly and with minimal complexity. For example, automating robotic palletizing is a good place to start. From there, you can gradually tackle more complex projects. Beginning with the most challenging process on your manufacturing floor first can lead to integration challenges, stall progress, diminish your team’s confidence, and reduce management’s eagerness to implement manufacturing automation.

Identify inefficient or error-prone processes

Look for manual processes that are repetitive, time-consuming, or prone to human errors for your first automation project. These tasks are often ideal candidates for automation as they are undesirable and monotonous, making them difficult to consistently staff, especially during the ongoing labor shortage. Automating inefficient or error-prone processes can greatly improve output, reduce mistakes, and enhance product quality.

Consider processes with high volume or frequency

Automating manufacturing tasks that are performed frequently or involve large output quantities can yield significant time and cost savings. High-volume processes often consume a significant amount of labor when done manually. By automating them, you can reduce labor costs and allocate employees to more value-added activities. This efficiency can also boost productivity and throughput, enabling your business to meet higher demand without increasing operational costs.

Evaluate the potential return on investment (ROI)

Analyze the costs of manufacturing automation (hardware, software, implementation, training, maintenance) against the expected benefits (increased productivity, reduced errors, cost savings, reduced injuries) to determine a project’s ROI. Your first automation project could be a simpler process that still has the potential to deliver a good ROI to encourage continued investment by management. Use Vention’s ROI calculator to quickly determine project payback. 

Gather employee feedback

Employees with direct experience working with manufacturing processes have valuable insights into which tasks are most suitable for automation. They can pinpoint specific processes that cause delays or slowdowns, highlight aspects that are too tedious or physically demanding, and share information on process complexity and safety concerns. When deciding what to automate first, feedback from employees is invaluable. 

Assess the complexity and dependencies

Manufacturing processes that are relatively self-contained and have fewer dependencies on other processes or systems are typically easier to automate. In addition, consider the type of application. While a custom application is more complex, it can be designed specifically for your needs. On the other hand, a productized application carries less risk since it is a fully vetted, plug-and-play solution. For your first automation project, a productized application, though it offers less flexibility, ensures a better chance of success.

Consider compliance and regulatory requirements

Compliance and regulatory requirements should be considered from the project’s outset. Processes involving strict compliance or regulatory requirements may be more challenging to automate and require additional considerations. Industry-specific regulations, such as ISO standards, FDA regulations, OSHA guidelines, and more, may apply to your process. In addition, local, national, and international laws specific to your location may impact your automation efforts. 


Whatever manufacturing process you decide to automate first, the key is to start with one that is well-understood, has a clear business case for automation, and is relatively straightforward to implement. This allows you to build experience, refine your approach, and demonstrate the benefits of automation before tackling more complex processes.

Whether you’re just starting out with automation or have decades of experience, Vention is here to empower you to reach your automation goals. With over 18,000 operational machines worldwide and 4,000+ clients in North America and Europe, more manufacturers trust Vention with their automation needs. 

This is the second blog in the ‘Kickstarting Your Automation Journey’ series. For guidance on how to start your automation journey, read the first blog, A guide to kickstarting your industrial automation journey .

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