Reducing the Impact of Market Uncertainty in Automation

Decision making under uncertainty is a challenge we all face every day in both our personal and professional lives.

Our team has addressed the topics of uncertainty and risk previously in a webinar, Automating Under Uncertainty as well as an article published in ondrug delivery.

In these publications we focused on three sources of uncertainty:

1. Product
2. Process
3. Sales forecast

Automating Under Uncertainty

While we touched on external factors in the sales forecast, our discussion was focused largely on the voice of the customer and changing tides in the marketplace. What we are observing now, particularly in the Life Sciences world, is external and unforeseen factors impacting the decisions we make in our working lives. The most obvious example today is how, many of us in the life sciences (or associated)fields are working tirelessly to be part of the solution to the global COVID-19 crisis, which is layering a fourth factor (environmental) onto the sources of uncertainty in our professional lives. I’ll talk more about the causes of uncertainty and the impact they have on manufacturing’s ability to scale in my next webinar, 3 Practices to Reduce Risk when Automating Under Uncertainty.

 

“By definition there are no longer any ‘best practices’ that can guarantee success for an organization; there are only good practices that we can stumble upon through experimentation.” – Alison Randel

 

While COVID-19 has accelerated change in a number of areas within the industry, the primary principles for addressing uncertainty haven’t changed.

Here are the 3 primary practices that I recommend to help minimize risk in an undefined circumstance:

1. Start with the end in mind
2. Select solid foundational technologies
3. Minimize customization

SuperTrak’s parent company, ATS Automation, put these principles into practice when executing a large automation program utilizing the SuperTrak CONVEYANCE™ platform for Tessy Plastics. Having a clear vision of what we needed to do, utilizing proven technologies, and re-configuring stations rather than redesigning them have empowered the deployment of a system at a pace previously thought unachievable.

Let’s take a look at each practice.

Start with the end in mind

Starting with the end in mind allows for more effective process development, especially in the regulated world, because as we invest in equipment to support each of the various volumes (validation, clinical trial, human trials) we want to be sure that we are building our knowledge base in support of the system which will ultimately manufacture the good. This practice makes regulatory steps more straightforward and streamlined at each step, while also driving the effectiveness of the specialists needed to build the manufacturing process.

Select solid foundational technologies

Sound foundational technologies are useful in the life sciences market because they provide building blocks to anchor your overall system design. Consistency, reliability, and cleanliness are vital requirements as we assemble life-critical devices. Driving minimal floor space within a cleanroom, high throughput rates, and fine process control are enablers for the investment in automation. There is a balance to be had in regulated industries between trusted components that we’ve used in certification and the modernization of technology through new standards. Leaders in the space are finding means of driving innovation while respecting the knowledge base that has been built over time, which is often done through new strategic partnerships such as the one the SuperTrak team recently formed with Vention.

Minimize customization

Reconfiguring rather than re-designing helps to reduce the risk in an already challenging field. Adding market and environment risk into the Life Sciences field can impact the business case for an automation investment. However, a reduction in NRE by careful consideration of market available technologies can help to improve the value of the investment. Our team has noted that standardization is a trend that has been steadily increasing within our partner base and one that we are observing continuing to accelerate. With growing uncertainty around the market, labor force, and other external factors, standard technologies allow for higher agility and lower risk on the manufacturing floor.

With the above in mind, we have re-tooled our automating under uncertainty webinar to focus on the specific challenges of life science manufacturers and what they can do to reduce their automation risks. 3 Practices to Reduce Risk when Automating Under Uncertainty leverages decades of experience as well as a broad understanding of current global trends to walk you through how a focus on configuration, not customization can truly help you reduce your risks while you invest in your automation.

Around the Trak: Why standard technology platforms are on the rise

There is a clear commitment in the automation space to push innovation and new technology forward.

In last month’s Around the Trak Blog, New Technology and Change Management, we highlighted several strategies and best practices to ease the challenges associated with implementing new technologies and help drive this change.   

The other side of that discussion is who is responsible for deciding on what technologies to implement into the automation processes and what impacts the technologies will have on the business.  

One thing that is becoming more prevalent in manufacturing organizations large and small, is the creation of an overarching technology owner.  The responsibility of this role is to identify technologies that can be standardized across groups in order to support the overarching business strategy. 

In order to do so, the technology owner:

  • Researches technology and evaluate business impacts
  • Completes initial trials
  • Begins the change management process internally 

Because there is one technology owner, manufacturers looking to automate are starting to realize the potential of integrating standard technology platforms across their organizations. 

The rise of  technology platforms

Technology standards in manufacturing are not new but they are becoming more widely accepted.   

Governing bodies like UL, CE, etc. are in place to define a set of requirements and formalize minimum performance and safety needs.  The implementation of standards both in technology and process across global organizations intuitively should unify the workforce.  However, that has rarely been the case historically, as mentioned in a post on CIO.com entitled “Balance the battle between process variations and standardization.”

“90 percent of the organizations I know have failed at standardization,” says industry expert Steve Stanton, Managing Director, FCB Partners. “Doing business in our global, tech-driven and consumer-oriented world is becoming more and more complex.”  - CIO.com 

Despite implementation challenges, increasingly we are seeing many organizations continue to create and push for technology standards in their teams. There is a growing realization that when done well, standards can drive efficiency and support strategic objectives. Companies are creating centralized teams of experts within their organization to set company-wide standards for use of technologies across processes and geographies. These central groups are driving momentum for technological efficiency and easing change management challenges for companies large and small.    

To see evidence of this, you need to look no further than the local job postings.  You will see several postings for directors of automation standards and leaders for global automation implementation with a primary objective for standardization.  

 A balancing act 

Integrating standard technology platforms across a series of teams within an organization is a balancing act. It is important that we acknowledge that before getting into why they are beneficial and how best to move forward.  

The implementation of standards goes through the typical change management process but also has to manage two additional challenges: 

  1. The perception that standardization can be limiting to teams in some areas of the organization.   
  2. Balancing what is needed today with future requirements. 

Both challenges can be overcome by combating organizational myopiaMyopia is generally used as a marketing term used to describe a company that focuses on their needs instead of defining the company and its products in terms of the customers’ needs and wants. It results in the failure to see and adjust to the rapid changes in their markets. 

In a more general sense, marketing myopia can be seen across many organizations and the way they operate. Too often, businesses lose sight of what their customers need, and as a result, organizational priorities suffer.   

In order to succeed, organizations must overcome myopia and collectively continue to look for the most efficient and effective way to serve their customer.  

With this in mind, we must treat the different groups inside our organizations that are impacted by technology standards as the customer. We must never lose sight of what those internal customers need as well. 

 Take a look at the landscape of newly successful companies of the present day and you’ll probably find a future pigeon or two in the bunch. But you’ll also be able to pick out the companies that are built to last in the very long run, not because of the technology they’ve built, but because of how they focus on solving pain points within their customers’ journeys”. – Inc.com 

The challenge in avoiding myopia is ensuring that everyone impacted by standards truly understands the business that you’re in and how a standard improves your ability to execute on that business.  That technology standards are removing the pain points in the journey.  This is a direct call back to the fundamental importance of “the why” when driving change. 

The best example I have observed recently is a team of designers within a global organization coming together across three different geographical sites to standardize on a common frame design for their automation.  

Historically, there have been challenges creating standards because a design approach or specific geographical requirements always lead the conversation to a dead end.   

In this case, however, the team saw the potential for supply chain savings and organizational efficiency by overcoming the historical hurdles.  A compromise was found and now all sites order the same component, from the same supplier, leading to a consolidation of spend and an alignment of design practice.  

The critical few 

The critical few is a driving thought process for whatever change you are trying to make.  

The idea was popularized by John Katzenbach in addressing organizational culture change in his book “The Critical Few”.  It is very important when discussing the standardization of technology that the focus in on areas that really drive impact within the business. Trying to standardize all aspects of a process will ultimately result in being one of the 90% of companies that fail at standardization.    

The critical few are unique to each business, they cannot be defined in an article or short post.  They depend on the strategic objective, the specific customer requirements, and the resources available. Many business leaders understand this and it is why we are seeing the creation of an overall organization technology owner.  That role puts the owner in a good position to identify the critical few and focus on the most impactful places to standardize.  

A recent conveyance example I encountered was where a company didn’t have the machining resources available to create large dials and as a result, always needed to outsource this aspect of their business. Because they did not have ready access to the required resource, their integration would often be delayed due to the implementation of change.

The designers saw the opportunity to standardize on the SuperTrak GEN3™ platform understanding that they would most likely see an increased material cost upfront but realized that the downstream benefits of responsiveness, labor efficiency, and project control would justify the business case for standardization. The balancing act here was very apparent with benefits vastly outweigh any downside.  

 The overall benefits of standardization 

The example above drives home some of the key benefits we see from standardization: 

  • Design throughput increases due to known modules to begin with.
  • Speed to market increases due to expertise and control reside internally.
  • Cost reduction occurs due to an increased volume and consolidation of spend. 

When reviewing the value stream and process for equipment creation we can identify additional advantages. The “Deviation Spiral” below taken from Benjamin Brandall’s article, “Why Process Standardization Improves Quality, Productivity and Morale”, outlines how process standardization is associated with leaner, more functional performance, meaning your organization can cut waste and do more with available resources. 

The deviation sprial

The same benefits outlined by Brandall, hold true in equipment design and implementation.  The driver behind standardization is that the organization becomes more efficient as a whole because there is an expectation across groups what tools are available to them.  What tools are in the toolbox per se.  This reduces the amount of deviation throughout the entire value stream, which increases the efficiency of the organization as a collective and ultimately improves our ability to serve customers. 

The ideal state is a world in which the design, supply chain, integration, and support teams are all working with components they are familiar with.  While each stakeholder may have preferences based on their specific requirements, the value stream is more efficient when we are working with an aligned set of expectations.  There is less uncertainty to work through, less training to overcome, and a generally more straightforward process for change management.

The constraints of standardization that I hear most often are the form factor, interface, and function are defined which can create challenges in specific examples.  Looking at the deviation spiral as well as the two examples highlighted, you can see that there is often a case where the benefits will outweigh any concerns.  

Another common rebuttal to standardization is that it will stagnate or curb the creativity or innovation within the business.  Driving innovation is something that I am personally invested and passionate about.  I have had the opportunity to visit and speak with many people and organizations about how they drive technology development.  I have not personally encountered a situation where standards diminish innovation.  In practice, the largest driver to stagnated automation is a lack of time to step away from the day to day and work to innovate. 

We commonly hear the term “firefighting” used to describe our workdays.  Utilizing standards is a method to drive efficiency and reclaim some time in our day to focus thought on what comes next, rather than what is in front of us.  This ultimately drives more creative thought, not less. 

 Communication is key 

There are a number of benefits that we’ve highlighted in the use of standard technology platforms.  While there are tradeoffs, I believe they are generally summarized by more effective communication and expectation setting across large organizations.   Any downside of settling on a technology toolbox is typically offset by an aligned understanding across a broad team of experts the toolsets that are available to them. Alignment of expectations accelerates time to market, reduces maintenance and supply costs, and allows for more mobility throughout the organization.  With the business climate ever-changing, these benefits will serve companies more effectively than ever before.  

Technology standards within organizations are one of the more challenging implementations of technological innovation and change management.  They are also the most fruitful which is why we are seeing a rise in standardization in organizations large and small.   

Leaders should focus on standards that will drive the business strategy and improve the customer journey. The “critical few” platforms selection will help align the various stakeholders across the organization and set you up for saleable, repeatable, and most importantly, sustainable success. 

 Learn how your organization can experience the benefits of standardization by utilizing SuperTrak CONVEYANCE as the foundation for your automation.  

 Get in touch with the SuperTrak Team to discuss: supertrakteam@atsautomation.com

 

 

 

Around the Trak: New Technology and Change Management

Change of any kind is hard for a variety of reasons. Successfully implementing new technologies follows the same basic change management principles you may see elsewhere in your business.

We need to overcome inertia in people and companies, which can occur for a number of reasons. Without getting into all of the drivers of inertia (perhaps another time), I’ll walk through some change management best practices for leaders and change drivers that aspire to use technology as a differentiator for their business.

Strategic team building

 A guiding principle to change management that I’ve observed builds on a concept highlighted last month in my strategic partnership blog.  Everyone that is needed to successfully introduce new manufacturing technology likely isn’t on your team, or maybe even a part of your organization.

“The team of experts needed is unlikely to reside within one place”

Working for a world-leading automation company, I regularly interface with organizations implementing new technologies. One of the biggest pitfalls I see many of them make is that they often mistake the team that has identified and developed the technology as the right team for implementation.

Understanding that change is hard because everyone doesn’t see the world, in the same way, is fundamental to being an effective change driver.

The companies that we see drive seamless technology implementations, understand that the ball will be passed from one team to the next.  That everyone plays their role both inside and outside the company.

Successful change drivers develop strategies and communication plans from the outset of the project to transcend barriers in the broader team and leverage their partnerships to bring expertise when it is needed. Breaking down barriers and driving alignment on the definition of success is critical in driving change.

‘Why’ is critical

One of the best examples of change management I have observed, was the use of a completely new technology, with the goal of accelerating the implementation of a brand-new production facility. The leader driving the change made certain that communication across all stakeholders, those responsible for executing the project and those impacted by the project down the line, was a key priority.

Outside of the standard project kickoff (PKO) and division of tasks among the project team, in this example, communication kickoffs were set up with all the major groups impacted in the days following the PKO.  Key partners were brought in for the kickoff meeting and then stayed to present to other groups.  Communicating the vision of the new facility, the reason the technologies were selected, and how they would be helpful in the facility startup was key to their success.

Reflecting on why this path was so effective, it highlights that while the change driver may not be in sales, you are selling an idea when driving change.

To drive change you must sell an idea

The more effective you can be at explaining why you are making the change, the more likely you are to succeed.

Simon Sinek very famously explains how starting with the ‘why’ helps to inspire change. His TED talk “Great Leaders Inspire Action,” does a good job of illustrating that as leaders you need those responsible for change to understand the purpose of what they are doing.

While most of his talk is regarding people buying products, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”, the principles for driving change are the same.

You are about to drive a cross-functional team of people with a variety of viewpoints, goals and backgrounds. To get the team aligned, they need to understand why you are proposing to change the status quo.

“We’re doing this to save money” is unlikely to inspire the commitment required to transform, but explaining how the new technology will enable them to better perform their job to reach their targets which will in-turn help the business reach their financial goals, would be a better approach.

Focus your efforts on providing broader context into how the change will help your overall business, then speak individually with the key team members about how the change will help them as well.

Create early momentum

I truly believe that building early momentum is one of the greatest factors in driving success in a big project.  That belief was created early in my career with one of my favorite examples of change that I have observed.

While consulting with an early-stage company that was about 18 months into their journey, the CEO wanted to pivot the company to focus their hardware in a new market. In order to do so they would require integration with a new partner.

The CEO was convinced that this was the only way their business would succeed long term, as currently they were running out of time to show financial success.

What, in my belief, made them successful, was that the CEO understood that the team would be skeptical at the change, had a good understanding of the amount of work a new partner would require, and was sensitive to the fact that the team knew they had minimal time left to prove success.  The CEO knew that the largest challenge would be convincing the team that this task was in fact possible.

To combat the perception that this task was insurmountable, the CEO meticulously mapped out and communicated an execution plan that targeted a major win every two weeks.  Her fundamental belief was that metrics drive behavior, and it was her job to choose the right measures in driving change.

The team was split into two main areas (technical and go to market) to focus on two interlinked tasks at a time. Success was not achieved if either group didn’t hit on their part of the plan in their two-week sprints.

The ultimate goal of the plan was to break the very large challenge into achievable, digestible milestones.  Once a certain threshold was met by either team, their KPI would shift to something that was a little closer to the overall goal of revenue derived from the new market.

It was amazing to see the momentum shift in her team from skeptical optimism to full steam ahead after the first two milestones were completed.

The fundamental understanding of needing to drive early success as well as what was needed to drive a major shift in approach is something that will never be lost on me. With my SuperTrak team, I often use the term “start the snowball rolling down the hill” in my day to day activities when driving transformational change.  This example above is the one that started me using this term because the two-week milestones built momentum like a snowball rolling down a hill.

6 Tips for Building Momentum During Change Posted by Sallie Sherman in Sallie’s Corner

It is much easier for a large group to rally around a large initiative if there is early success toward the much more challenging objective.  Setting objectives that are relevant to the short-term success of the project are equally, if not more important, than the ultimate objective.

Teams of people can do amazing things if the task at hand doesn’t appear insurmountable.  Those that drive change well understand this. Find ways to create early wins that accelerate progress to the end goal and demonstrate consistently that the team is winning.

 You’re all in

As a driver of any change, including the implementation of new technologies, you need to ensure that you’re all in.

You’re going to experience challenges along the way, because change is hard… period. Whether it is with good reason or not, someone will highlight a reason why what you are trying to do won’t work.  It is too hard, not worth the time, too risky, etc.  When the challenge arises you need to never waiver, or you give credibility to the primary alternative… which is to do nothing.

Every time the SuperTrak team has observed effective change, it is always spearheaded by a passionate leader who has a deep belief in the technology and its positive impact on the company.

Full commitment extends to two additional areas:

  • First – effective change requires that the other leaders in your organization are committed too.

This includes those senior to you, but more importantly your peers that will help the illustrate commitment throughout a cross-functional team.  Doubt in the initiative arising from a leader will fuel more inertia and severely diminish its chance of success.  Having a strong “why” for taking on the initiative will help gain commitment. 

“Only 30 percent of change programs succeed.”– John Kotter, Leading Change

  • Second – commitment and excitement is easy at the beginning. The testing commitment comes when times get hard.

Forbes actually lists change “battle fatigue” as the number one reason change fails. The article details organizational change examples, however, it’s relevant to driving change within organizations. Commitment from the change driver can never waiver until the objective is met.

Implementing any new technology in your company should be looked upon through the lens of change management. Not only for top-level buy in, for but implementation and adoption success as well.

If I ‘m being honest, if you don’t believe in the change you’re trying to make you’re likely not the best person to drive implementation.

“If you don’t believe in the change you are trying to make, you’re likely not the best person to drive implementation.”

The opportunity is likely there to be a supporting member of the team and not the lead, or potentially choose a different path to achieve the goal  If you are not all in, I recommend that you take a different path.

Change isn’t finished at the goal line

After the team reaches the initial goal, you deserve to celebrate and get a pat on the back. This is clearly a big milestone which like John says, should be celebrated. However, the work is not done and it’s your job to make sure momentum doesn’t fade.

Many companies become overly satisfied after a new technology is first implemented and run the risk of not realizing their ultimate goal.  Until the new technology has been institutionalized, there is still change to drive. Once a new line is running, for example, there are processes and workflows that need to be adopted by a new set of stakeholders.

Build this into your plan as the change driver.  In order for transformational change to take hold, you need to evaluate what happens when the team members not involved in the initial implementation begin their work.

One of my favorite implementation examples is one where the core integration team also had a KPI regarding the number of internal hours were needed for one year following the change.

Having the team understand up front that this was one of the measures of success, was the driver to implement good training practices and communication up front, and more importantly maintained a sense of ownership after the system was up running.

In a majority of the cases where there is difficulty integrating change, there is a perception of ‘throwing something over the fence’ for the next team to deal with.  If this takes hold in your group, the difficulties that inevitably arise become more difficult to overcome.

New people, with different viewpoints and experiences, are an opportunity to continuously improve on the work you’ve just accomplished.  Plan for this, continue to celebrate wins and sustain momentum.

Even the best laid plans face challenges and you cannot account for every hurdle you may face but planning for change is essential to success.  While the pillars of change I have outlined above may not be all encompassing, they are a good place to start and I have seen them work several times amongst change leaders looking to implement new technologies in their organizations.

If you’re looking to implement new automation technologies in your business, the SuperTrak team can walk you through steps to achieve initial buy-in all the way through to achieving optimal functionality from your conveyance platform.

Our large team of engineers and support staff are there to take you from design to build to perform.

Get the ball rolling by reaching out to SuperTrakTeam@atsautomation.com

Around the Trak: Strategic Partnerships

Welcome to Around the Trak

Welcome to the very first installment of Around the Trak. I have been debating starting this blog for quite some time and finally took the leap!

I am fortunate that during my engineering and automation career, the roles that I’ve had have allowed me to travel the world, working with some truly incredible and forward-thinking people. It is the experiences and conversations that I’ve had during this time that form the basis of the Around the Trak blog series.

One thing that is evident to not only me but to most people in the industrial automation space, is that the automation world is changing and our work with SuperTrak CONVEYANCE™ puts us at the foundation of that change.

I want to use this forum to share thoughts about what we see, common patterns that we discuss, and provide guidance where we feel we can.  If you are a leader or a change driver at a company that aspires to use technology as a differentiator for your business, we truly hope that Around the Trak helps.

An emerging strategic pillar: Partnerships

The rate of change is ever-increasing due to our progressively deep integration of technology.  We often look closely at how we work when we discuss this trend (ie. smartphones), however, technology has also greatly impacted what we work on as well.

Companies are starting to narrow in on the unique value they offer to the market, their core competency, as growth initiatives for the 2020’s take shape.  Leaders have a much better understanding that automation is a necessity in many processes today but to successfully unlock the true potential in the investment, many system components require successful integration across the business.

Technology partnerships and “frictionless business” have been highlighted by Forbes and have been a fixture on Accenture’s annual technology trend reports since 2018.  Accenture highlights survey results where 36% of businesses report working with double or more partners than they were two years ago.

businesses have more strategic partners

The most effective deployment of new processes and technology we’ve observed is the result of a broad team of experts aligned to a clear, central goal.  The challenge we all face is that the team of experts is unlikely to reside within one company in today’s environment of interconnected systems and deep technology integration.   Increasing the difficulty for us all is that as the technology rate of change increases, system complexity continues to increase as well.

The value of strategic partnerships

The Integrated nature of these challenges is leading us to be more comfortable with the concept of strategic technology partnerships because we are all working toward a larger goal but focused on the area where we provide expertise and value.

Leaders are understanding that the challenge is too tall to take on alone.  To drive change at the rate that is needed, we need to be looking to form the right team for the central goal.  This is a requirement of many of today’s larger strategic opportunities and the closer our teams work the higher the rate of success.

I have observed new business models forming (example = “as a service” in unique areas) as well as areas where former competitors have found ways to work closely at delivering higher customer value.  This is a good thing for our industry as ecosystems of like-minded companies and individuals will lead the market.

A recent, top of mind example, is the partnership that ATS formed with.  This is a partnership where two companies’ core competencies serve different phases of the automation cycle.  Vention offers a platform for ideation and quick turnaround equipment, whereas ATS offers turnkey, factory-wide assembly automation solutions.  They began working together to improve the customer experience for both companies. Vention and SuperTrak CONVEYANCE partner

I believe the larger trend that drives our focus toward partnerships is the labour shortage that affects so many industries, not just manufacturing and I often cite a recent study published by Deloitte, the skills gap may leave 2.4 million positions unfilled between 2018 and 2028.

Increasing skills gap

As leaders and drivers of change, we need to be laser-focused on how to achieve the greatest impact with the team that we have, which emphasizes a definition of our core competency.  Those that define their competitive competencies well are far more open to working with partners on a deeper level because of a strong appreciation for each other’s strengths and market. I believe the Miller Heiman Group describes this well in their customer relationship hierarchy seen below.  The image highlights that deeper relationships (level 4 & 5) make important contributions to each other’s mutual success.

This partnership trend is certainly aided by the fact that we are all working to solve a problem larger than any one company.  The common vision is to drive industry forward with more effective technological solutions in order to minimize the labor shortage impact on our ability to service the customer.  This challenge is leading to a new climate where companies are finding deeper ways to work with each other to solve overall system problems.

The openness to partnerships may be the trend that excites me the most as we look forward.  I have a passion for solving problems with new technologies and doing so quickly.  Focus is driven when companies have a better understanding of their core competency and focus drives efficiency.  Therefore, working closely with partners has the potential to unlock greater rates of change in technology adoption because we can all focus on what we’re best at and scale it through standard practices.

Partnerships can bring challenges, particularly around communication, but I believe this new climate of openness with each other will put these communication issues behind us and integrate technology adoption further into growth strategies moving forward.  The potential challenge is vastly outweighed by the upside.

If you’ve experienced being part of a strategic partnership, share your experience in the comments below and help the conversation going.

I look forward to hearing your feedback as I continue with Around the Trak. Connect with me on LinkedIn – Simon Drexler and let me know what you think!

My top 4 takeaways from ATX West

ATX West, one of the Nation’s largest annual automation technology trade shows has a lot to take in. I’ve been fortunate to attend the conference multiple times and participate in the expo portion of the event and this year I had the opportunity to speak at the conference (more on that in a bit!).

One of the things I like most about this event is the amount of new and innovative technology that is on display. But this also means that due to the sheer size of the show, it’s easy to have that feeling that you didn’t quite get the chance to see it all.

I won’t tell you that I saw it all, but I will say that I made a solid effort at getting a well-rounded overview of what was on display.

After talking to people walking the show floor, visiting numerous vendors and interacting with conference attendees, I have put together my top 4 biggest takeaways from the show.

Takeaway #1: Labor or labor shortage was a large topic of discussion. 

Studies show that the gap between labour demand and skills availability is growing. A closer tie between people and technology will help us fill the growing need for workers and continue to drive the development of more collaborative technologies and not just collaborative robots.

About 50% of the presentations within the Smart Manufacturing summit touched on technology filling the current labor shortage. If you missed my session, which goes into detail on how collaborative technology plays a vital role in filling the labour shortage gap, stay tuned for our upcoming webinar on emerging collaborative technologies and the increasing need for connectivity.

Takeaway #2: The softer side of robotics on display.

More than collaborative, a number of new products were on display that work to make the touch of a robot more gentle or compliant for delicate moves.  ATI’s LCC is an example of companies working to make the traditional industrial robot operate more like the human hand.

Another example, I saw was in the West Pack show section, were solutions focused on soft foods like the Fanucs’ new DR3i robot for soft fruit handling.  Increased compliance is driving new applications of industrial robotics that were typically reserved for the human hand.

Takeaway #3: Market demands are challenging today’s manufacturing.

Today’s consumers demand customized products, immediately. To meet these demands, manufacturers must be able to adapt their processes to allow for high-mix, low-volume production.

These applications have historically been challenging to automation, however, at ATX I saw many new products that are helping to re-imagine industrial automation by offering new, more flexible ways to automate.

Flexible picking, highly capable vision, and flexible platforms are allowing automated solutions into the manufacturing facility where we may not have seen them been before.

This case study is an example of how one company was able to introduce smart conveyance technology into their automation to update their processes, reduce their footprint and increase their OEE.

Takeaway #4: Automation is becoming more accessible and easier to use.

Gone are the days when you needed an engineering degree and many years of in-depth programming experience to be able to implement basic automation.

Many products I saw were highlighting new interfaces that require “no programming” or all in one packages to ease integration.  Automation product providers are pushing hard to make their technology more accessible to the market.

More than that, services such as Vention’s Machine Builder, provide immediate online access to a comprehensive library of public automation designs and allows inexperienced users to receive fast concept validation.

Now that we’re back and in the midst of a Canadian winter, I’m already thinking of warmer days ahead as we start to plan for our next big show in June at Automatica.  But I’m curious, what were your biggest takeaways from ATX West? Leave me a comment below!

A breakthrough in automated production.

How one engineering company obtained the end-to-end flexibility and digital control they needed by switching their intelligent conveyance platform.

Speed, flexibility, control – elements most engineers working in automation strive to achieve, but don’t always obtain the first time around. This was the case for Transformix Engineering, a company whose culture is deeply rooted in creativity, inventiveness, and a refreshing boldness, when it comes to developing solutions for manufacturing automation.

Best known for their platform which consists of a series of plug and play modules that offer standard, multi-purpose, reconfigurable assets, Transformix sought to develop a technology that would redefine automated assembly.
READ CASE STUDY

Download the case study to see how Transformix learned the importance of selecting the best foundational platform in order to achieve an unprecedented level of performance combined with unmatched levels of standardization and versatility.

When launching the newest iteration of their platform, Transformix undertook a top-to-bottom reassessment of their platform’s architecture to make sure they had the best technology to support their initiative. The conveyance platform being used with the initial cell presented challenges with high settling times, over-heating, and required frequent preventative maintenance. Knowing that choosing the right intelligent conveyance platform would be essential to achieving the end-to-end flexibility and digital control they sought, Transformix began to seek alternative conveyance platforms.

Read the full case study to see how choosing the correct intelligent conveyance platform helped Transformix overcome their challenges and launch a groundbreaking technology that eliminates non-value-added losses and yields high-performance systems.

To learn more about selecting the right smart conveyance platform for your application, call or email the SuperTrak Team. +1(519)650-6521.
Email: SuperTrakTeam@atsautomation.com

How one manufacturing company managed to increase throughput and gain back 44% of their floor space.

To remain competitive in today’s manufacturing space, you must be flexible enough to quickly and efficiently adapt to changing market demands. This often includes being able to effectively expand or add on to your current production lines as product demand increases. With this in mind, one of the biggest challenges manufactures face is maximizing the revenue per square foot for their production facilities. In other words, how do you do more with the space you currently have.

This was the request of one customer, a leading manufacturer of medical devices in North America. An influx in product demand prompted the organization to evaluate their current processes and explore how they could increase their production. Upon discovering that their traditional manufacturing cells could no longer accommodate production needs, the decision was made to invest in new automation that was flexible enough to accommodate changing process demands and would yield a better ROI than their current system. The challenge the customer faced was finding the necessary space to add processes which could maintain their line rates of 60 PPM.

By utilizing the SuperTrak™ Conveyance platform as the foundation of their processes, they not only met their production requirements, but were able to eliminate several redundant pieces of equipment during their process steps, effectively increasing production while reducing floor space.

During the initial integration of the SuperTrak platform with the original system, the process design not only reduced redundant stations, but individually controlled shuttles on the track allowed for varied part spacing through the line which increased productivity time at each stations. In addition, the asynchronous capability of the system allowed two cells to be decoupled and increased the OEE of the system by 5% due to a more robust buffering system which improved uptime and overall throughput rates.

As production processes further developed and demand continued to increase, the customer opted to use the SuperTrak platform as the primary foundation for their automation processes. This resulted in a further 14% reduction in system size by eliminating additional redundant equipment and achieved the primary goal of increasing throughput without requiring additional floor space.

To learn more about the benefits the customer experienced with SuperTrak Conveyance download the full case study here. DOWNLOAD NOW.

Ready to increase your output and reduce your floor space? Contact the SuperTrak team today!
Supertrakteam@atsautomation.com