5 Benefits of an Automation Audit
In today’s highly competitive market and amidst budget cuts and staff shortages, manufacturers must ensure that their processes are running as effectively and efficiently as possible if they want to succeed. Although many of today’s industrial processes feature automated systems, which are considerably more efficient than those that are manual, automation doesn’t guarantee that the facility is operating at optimal capacity, speed and efficiency, nor does automation eliminate unplanned downtime. However, conducting an automation audit can help ensure that automated equipment, lines and/or processes are optimized for their best performance.
What is an Automation Audit?
An automation audit is a comprehensive evaluation of one or more automated lines or processes that helps identify and correct problems or issues that may reduce efficiency, lead to unplanned downtime or impact finished product quality. Automation audits involve an assessment of various aspects of the automated process, such as current speed, capacity and efficiency of the system, effectiveness of control systems, current or future maintenance issues, safety and/or quality of finished product.
Automation audits may be performed internally or outsourced to an external company that specializes in automation services; however, for the best outcome and problem-solving expertise, a professional auditor is recommended. In addition to an unbiased opinion, automation experts can lend a new perspective and bring experience from past situations/audits. The audit may focus on a single automated line; an automated complex, multi-step process; or the entire facility.
Automation audits may last from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the scope of the audit and the complexity of the process or processes. For example, an audit that involves checklists that inventory the assets and measure the performance on a simple assembly line will take less time than a deeper examination into the operation, speed, capacity and bottlenecks associated with the automated equipment on a complex line. Automation audits that also assess control panels and additional components, maintenance issues and product quality issues may also require additional time.
What to Expect During an Automation Audit
Conducting an automation audit consists of several steps, including:
|Selecting the process and identifying goals||Identifying the process to be audited and the anticipated outcome of the audit (boosting efficiency, reducing downtime, improving product quality) is the first step.|
|Identifying areas for improvement||Discuss with the auditor what you hope to achieve with the audit and identify any bottlenecks, maintenance issues, product quality problems, etc., that are of concern.|
|Conducting the on-site audit||The auditor will examine the agreed-upon process or processes and all associated equipment using a detailed checklist. A thorough inventory taken of all the assets, control panels and components should be taken. Discussions with operators and maintenance staff may be held to identify problems or concerns. Available data from sensors, “smart” or connected equipment will likely be collected and examined, as well.|
|Review and analyze the data||An automation expert will review and analyze the findings to pinpoint inefficiencies, maintenance issues, quality control and other problems that may be causing upsets downstream or negatively impacting product quality.|
|Report and recommendations||Based on the analysis, an automation expert will provide a detailed report on the audit findings. Areas of concern will be identified and corrective actions will be suggested. It will be up to the equipment owner to decide which suggestions to pursue.|
|Follow up the audit||Once corrective actions have been implemented, it’s important to monitor the process to identify improvements and gains.|
5 Benefits of an Automation Audit
An automation audit is likely a worthwhile investment of time and resources as identifying issues and taking appropriate corrective actions to optimize an automated process will allow manufacturers to increase productivity and efficiency of a system, reduce unplanned maintenance and improve product quality, all of which will have a significant positive impact on the bottom line.
Some of the achievable benefits of an automation audit include:
- Increased Efficiency. By identifying bottlenecks and inefficiencies within the automated process and implementing corrective actions to rectify the issues, an automation audit can help improve overall efficiency and productivity.
- Improved Facility Safety. An automation audit may identify and correct safety issues surrounding the process. Areas where machinery, machine guards and other safety devices are missing or do not meet Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) standards can be rectified, preventing worker injury and helping the facility avoid non-compliance fines.
- Improved Product Quality. Automation audits can help pinpoint potential problems with the automated equipment or within the automated process that may be causing defects in the finished product. Enacting the suggested improvements will help ensure that finished products meet quality standards. Keeping product within spec will not only provide a competitive advantage, but it will also reduce costs associated with product scrap, waste and re-work.
- Reduced Downtime. By identifying and correcting potential maintenance issues with automated machinery before something goes amiss, an automation audit can lead to the reduction of unplanned downtime. In addition, some audits include a spare parts inventory to ensure that critical parts are available. If the audit addresses maintenance, preventive and/or predictive maintenance activities may be suggested, as well. Avoiding potential breakdowns and having an adequate supply of spare parts on hand can reduce the exorbitant costs associated with unplanned downtime.
- Increased Capacity. The associated increases in efficiency and productivity often lead to increased capacity without the need for adding new lines. In addition, avoiding unplanned downtime and safety related stoppages will also enhance productivity and capacity. The gained throughput without the additional expense of expansion or extra worker shifts can lead to large gains for the bottom line.
An automation audit can help optimize a process and provide many advantages to efficiency, capacity, product quality, facility safety and uptime, all of which are beneficial to the bottom line and can help manufacturers remain competitive, despite tight budgets and staff shortages.
Please contact JHFOSTER to inquire about an automation audit for your facility.