Technology adoption has a big role to play in the future of manufacturing, offering huge rewards to those who get it right in the form of productivity gains, efficiencies, competitive advantage and a host of other benefits.
However, as I’ve explained in a previous blog, the grass is only greener if you have a proper plan in place and the right data to hand. When it comes to the digitalisation of manufacturing, the old adage ‘failing to prepare is preparing to fail’ couldn’t be more true.
If automation and robotics are to work for you, you must first put the groundwork in place by:
- Fully understanding your process (if you are to introduce a robot onto a line, you need to know what effect it will have on the rest of your process)
- Implementing lean to minimise waste (putting a robot to work on an already wasteful process will just increase the waste)
- Involving your people from the start (you need everyone to come with you on the journey, or risk resistance that could stop everything in its tracks).
You’re not alone if you’re thinking this all sounds like a lot of work. Why make your life harder by going to all that effort of setting SMART objectives, mapping processes, recording data and making incremental gains, when what you actually want to do is make your life easier by bringing in a shiny new piece of kit?
The answer is – you’re right; it is a lot of work. But believe me, you’ll regret not doing it if you jump straight to ripping the packaging off a new robot like it’s Christmas Day. It is the preparation beforehand that will make your life easier once you invest in the new kit, not the kit itself.
Slow Brain thinking
In the end, making smart decisions based on hard data, rather than gut feel, is the only way to guarantee success with digital technology. Those who have attended one of our Lean Champion events will recall the section on ‘Slow Brain vs Fast Brain’ thinking. Fast Brain thinking is instinctive and often results in snap decisions that sometimes don’t go as planned, whereas Slow Brain thinking is deliberative, data-driven and methodical. Digitalisation is a great example of where Slow Brain thinking has a huge influence on the successful outcome of a project!
Being well prepared will also provide a raft of other benefits that automation and robotics cannot achieve on their own, such as greening your business through reduced waste and energy use.
Where we come in
The first piece of good news is that you don’t need to go through this hard work on your own. Our Manufacturing Advisors are experts in helping SMEs put that groundwork in place. For us, it’s the most enjoyable part of the journey. We can act as a stepping-stone that will prepare you for the exciting world of digitalisation ahead.
The second piece of good news is that Greater Manchester has a fantastic ecosystem of support in place for manufacturers when it comes to automation and robotics. One of these is the North of England Robotics Innovation Centre (NERIC), a brand-new £16 million facility at our partner the University of Salford.
NERIC has been specifically designed to be a one-stop-shop for helping SMEs develop and apply robotics and automation. Greater Manchester businesses can access 12 hours of fully funded, flexible one-to-one consultancy that could include desk-based analysis, design work, feasibility/diagnostic (both on- and off-site), testing, validation and troubleshooting. In addition to an initial 12 hours’ consultancy, SMEs can also access up to 50 additional hours of R&D support.
Once NERIC’s new robotics facility is open from 2023, SMEs will also be able to access specialist labs equipped with the latest technologies, such as collaborative robotics and autonomous mobile robots, where they will be able to test and validate solutions in preparation for real-world deployment.
Sam Ashworth, one of the Technology Consultants at NERIC, told me: “The UK has lagged behind many developed countries in robotic and automation uptake, but that means businesses are now buying developed technologies that are already proven in many workplaces.
“There are lots of SMEs in the Greater Manchester area with minimal automation, or where it does exist, robots aren’t part of the solution. There has been a lot of amazement at how far these robot systems have come, and the opportunities for using collaborative robots which work safely side-by-side with a human allow automation where it wouldn’t previously have been possible.”
One local manufacturer that has already benefitted from NERIC’s support is Oldham-based Ripple Group, which had been exploring methods for automating repetitive tasks and the moving around of equipment.
NERIC was able to conduct extensive research to identify which robots and robotics processes could be deployed for these purposes, helping the business make an informed decision.
“[NERIC] has given us a fantastic understanding of the world or robotics, demystifying any previous and often unwarranted concerns surrounding the subject. It’s been a great process working with the team and we can’t wait to continue the journey with them.” Daniel Wolfenden, Design and Marketing Director, Ripple Group
If you’re an SME manufacturer in Greater Manchester with a problem that you think can be solved by automation, get in touch with one of our Manufacturing Advisors for a full review to put the groundwork in place.
To get the ball rolling on finding the right automation or robotic solutions for your needs, visit the NERIC website or contact NERIC’s Business Development Manager Gary Bateman via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Senior Manufacturing Advisor Geoff Crossley outlines how our Manufacturing Service, and partners like the North of England Robotics Innovation Centre (NERIC) at Salford University, can combine to help manufacturers successfully introduce automation and robotics into their business with confidence.