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Building an Advanced Manufacturing Team: Six reasons to look internally to drive industrial automation initiatives

March 02, 2023 | Quinn Harker


As some manufacturing segments are experiencing a recession, manufacturers that fought the labor shortage over the last few years are reluctant to reduce headcount as a way to lower costs. Instead, many are reallocating their talent towards driving industrial automation as their solution to saving costs during a recession.

Thankfully, recent technological advancements have created more accessible automation solutions that can be adopted by the existing workforce without the need for external expertise. As detailed in our last blog post, Withstanding the manufacturing recession: Say hello to your “Advanced Manufacturing Team,” these solutions are allowing for the rise of the Advanced Manufacturing team, an internal team dedicated to successfully driving industrial automation initiatives across one or more manufacturing plants for the company. The case for creating such a team has never been stronger than it is today. Here is why.

1) Gain manufacturing speed and agility

High-mix manufacturers know best how unpredictable demand is. Amplified by rapid shifts in consumer taste and a reduction in product lifecycles, manufacturers built for speed and agility are better prepared to react to these changes. For example, if a car platform that used to have a 7-year life now has a 3.5-year life, the manufacturer would lose up to 20% of the product lifecycle if they had to wait 6 to 9 months for their production system to be deployed.

Advanced Manufacturing Teams can help. By removing the interface with external service providers, internal teams can operate at the organization’s pace and prioritize projects in alignment with the company. By centralizing project execution on a Manufacturing Automation Platform (MAP), one Minnesota-based power equipment manufacturer leveraged their own Advanced Manufacturing Team to complete an automation project in 13 weeks compared to the 44 weeks quoted by a third party relying on traditional technologies. This is not an isolated case but represents the natural benefits of operating with a nimble team aligned with the company’s prioritization, rather than relying on external vendors to succeed.

2) Establish shared industrial automation standards across manufacturing plants

Manufacturers are always seeking standards to ease operational burdens. This is even more true when it comes to industrial automation. Having a single standard across manufacturing plants significantly eases industrial machine deployments, upgrades, maintenance, and training.

For industrial automation standards to be adopted, they must be discoverable by the entire organization. The Advanced Manufacturing Team is the creator and guardian of such standards and can make them accessible by centralizing industrial automation projects on a Manufacturing Automation Platform. The cloud nature of MAP enables each plant to easily access the standards created by the Advanced Manufacturing Team and reuse them in the context of their factory. Out-of-the-box tools included in MAP, such as design collaboration and maintaining knowledge documents, help with formalizing and distributing standards.

3) Save CAPEX investment for industrial automation

Traditionally, industrial automation has been largely inaccessible to high-mix manufacturers because of the large CAPEX investment required. Between the cost of hardware and software technologies, along with system integration services, projects can range from a hundred thousand dollars to over a million dollars, with additional costs required to evolve the solution as needs change. Traditional industrial automation technologies are costly to acquire and even more costly to learn for most existing teams within manufacturing plants.

This is now changing. Democratization of industrial automation technologies and knowledge embedded in Manufacturing Automation Platforms significantly streamlines project time (up to 3x), resulting in up to 40% cost savings - a significant reduction in CAPEX investment. Another way to put it, with similar expertise provided by external integration service providers, Advanced Manufacturing Teams cost less, positively impacting project cost.

4) Develop a production cost advantage

While automation can bring significant production cost savings to manufacturers, the price to implement industrial automation is high. Just initiating an automation project requires significant investment. From developing project specifications, evaluating potential technologies, and finding the right integration service providers, several weeks can pass consuming precious engineering time (and cost).

Having an internal Advanced Manufacturing Team with centralized technology and process knowledge significantly minimizes those starting costs, resulting in more automation projects being undertaken and larger production cost savings being captured. Moreover, these teams are always on the lookout for automation projects, consistently re-prioritizing projects and driving improvements with the most impact on the business.

5) Own core manufacturing process knowledge

The realization of industrial automation projects is hard. Projects can come with a host of technology risks (i.e., will the selected hardware and software components work together at the expected performance level) and process risks (i.e., will the process be repeatable enough for the technology to succeed every single time). Because of technology and process risks, most projects are often navigated with the help of an expert integration service provider. That said, this reality is evolving. The emergence of the Manufacturing Automation Platform eliminates most technology risks as all available components are modular, with extensive compatibility testing. That only leaves “process risks” as the main obstacle to overcome when realizing industrial automation projects.

Considering the unpredictableness demonstrated by the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the rise of labor shortages and re-shoring initiatives, industrial automation will remain a critical mission for manufacturers. Therefore, outsourcing your remaining process knowledge increases process risk. If a skillset is strategic to your success, ensure you own it fully. Having the process knowledge owned and improved by the Advanced Manufacturing Team removes what many call the “PLC black box” (i.e., hidden process parameters that only the integration service provider knows and can modify). As the Advanced Manufacturing Team starts to own such knowledge, automated equipment projects are realized faster and achieve a higher level of performance, while existing equipment is updated more frequently to keep up with the continuous improvement agenda of the manufacturing plants.

6) Create a strong career path for manufacturing professionals

As the labor shortage is predicted to persist until 2030, the retention of existing talent is top-of-mind for many manufacturers. To increase retention, companies must invest in the development of their employee’s skills. This can be successfully achieved with the creation of an Advanced Manufacturing Team.

Manufacturing professionals joining Advanced Manufacturing Teams are rapidly exposed to highly valuable skills and technologies, including robot cell design, industrial components selection, automation programming, and more. Acquiring these skills is difficult with complex, traditional industrial automation technologies, but leveraging a Manufacturing Automation Platform simplifies the path to knowledge and skills development. With all members of the team working on the same easy-to-use hardware and software ecosystem, automation standards are better enforced, and learnings are more easily shared. In short, employees who used to operate the manufacturing floor are transformed into the people who now design the floor, making for exciting career growth opportunities within the company.

Making Advanced Manufacturing Teams possible with Vention’s MAP

Becoming the de-facto software and hardware platform for Advanced Manufacturing Teams, MAP allows for all the steps of an industrial automation project, from ideation and design to procurement and deployment, to take place in a unified, easy-to-use digital environment. Component-based 3D design, low-code/no-code programming, online ordering with fast shipping, plug-and-play assembly, and software-assisted deployment are all functions that MAP provides out-of-the-box.

Advanced Manufacturing Teams establishing MAP as their primary platform can accelerate their automation project, saving both time and cost. Moreover, the platform helps establish strong industrial automation standards, upskill the workforce, and speed up process knowledge development. If you are considering creating an Advanced Manufacturing Team in your organization, selecting the right Manufacturing Automation Platform should be a priority.

This is the second blog post in the series, “Building an Advanced Manufacturing Team.” Read our previous blog post: Withstanding the manufacturing recession: Say hello to your new “Advanced Manufacturing Team.”

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