3 Automation pitfalls and mistakes to watch out for.

Posted on October 2, 2020 by Esoteric Staffing

Why build automated material handling systems? It’s the usual suspects: reduced labor, tax advantages, improved speed of order fulfillment. Welcome to automation nirvana where orders fly out the door like clockwork and the remaining workers are optimized and engaged.

It sounds too good to be true when designing wondrous mechatronic systems that will rocket your operation into Industry 4.0 territory. It's heady company up there. But wait, didn't Elon Musk tweet that excessive use of robotics automation caused "production hell" when launching the Model 3. Later clarified by (tweeting): "Yes, excessive automation at Tesla was a mistake. To be precise, my mistake. Humans are underrated."

Maybe there are two lessons here: 1) Be careful on social media. 2) Excessive automation can be bad.

Elon was right. That hellish experience applies in varying degrees whether you're installing a small army of robots to build a cutting-edge electric sedan or installing a few robots to pick, pack, and ship your products. Indeed, the benefits are there, but it's a rough ride on the way. Why so?

Reason 1: Unprecedented growth.

Over the last 5-10 years, the automation industry has experienced unprecedented growth. By some accounts, more than half the people working in industrial automation have less than 5 years' experience. That's about 5 years shy of becoming "Experts" per Malcolm Gladwell. Meaning there are intelligent people, but with little practical real-world automation experience that are responsible for designing and building automated systems. The "Experts" are still wet behind the ears.

Reason 2: Excessive automation. Too much, too fast.

Either customers want or suppliers encourage biting off too much technology at once. Excessive automation is a relative measure. Your mileage may vary. If you are new to automated systems, it is better to start simple and build. Better to be evolutionary and live to see another day, than revolutionary and stumble in the leap forward. Resist the urge to go "all-in". Realize you may be gambling with your company or career.

Reason 3: If you can't define it, you shouldn't buy it.

There's little time to plan. Pace of business demands rapid solutions to urgent problems. It's not unusual for suppliers in the automation business to report that their customers didn't provide detailed requirements up front. Customers rely on suppliers to be Experts (see reason no. 1). Eventually, the "requirements" become evident at time of startup. The nature of many automated systems is that changes after the fact are intrusive, expensive, and even prohibitive. As the saying goes, "we do it twice, but we do it nice". Make time to plan and do it right. Or else.

Proceed eyes wide open with Experts at your side.

The list of benefits wasn’t misleading. But don't be wooed by the rookies. You'll need a team of Experts at your side. Don't build a complex system without them. Esoteric is a network of robotics, engineering, and supply chain professionals available for contract work or direct-hire employment. Esoteric collects 500+ metrics related to skills, industry experience, engineering capabilities, and travel expectations. Find your Expert at Esoteric.