The following list was composed by a number of individuals who have both purchased and sold automation equipment.
1. No equipment specification
Failure to define your company's expectations with regard to performance, esthetics and hardware preferences will eventually lead to confusion and misunderstandings. A detailed equipment specification will force the project engineer to examine all aspects of the project.
The following is an outline for a simple equipment specification:
Performance expectations (i.e., cycle, time, yield, machine uptime, etc.)
Preferred hardware list (i.e., PLC, valves, etc.)
Design requirements (i.e., guarding, wiring, plumbing, etc.)
Product information (i.e., prints, current process information, etc.)
2. Failure to visit prospective automation houses before the quoting process begins Often requests for a quotation are sent out to automation houses with very little prior knowledge about the company. A visit to the appropriate supplier early on in the process can help assure that you are looking at viable solutions and capable suppliers. This visit should also help interpret the quotation much more clearly as a result of having seen the equipment. The price quoted for the equipment will also have more meaning and allow for a better comparison.
3. Incorrectly estimating the cost of an automation project
Most of us know of a manager who has presented his supervisor with a proposal for an automation project, sold the idea and grossly underestimated the cost of the project. Now to save face, the manager and his/her subordinates spend their time looking for the right price rather than the right solution. Most automation houses would be willing to supply a rough, budgetary quotation for your consideration. A simple request for a quotation from a couple of automation houses will provide a more accurate cost estimate and may prevent a nonviable project from failing.
4. Not enough technical capability in-house to support the machine
Many times, companies purchase a piece of automation without considering the technical expertise required to maintain the equipment on a daily basis. Be sure to consider all the costs associated with new and unfamiliar technology.
5. Failure to involve the production staff in the process
The people responsible for ultimately operating a piece of automation can make the machine look good or bad. Allow the production people to be involved with the project early on. Give them an active role and a chance to take ownership.
6. Poor communication with the automation vendor
Even after a detailed equipment specification has been submitted to the vendor, constant, constructive communication must be maintained. Notice how the word "constructive" was used. Simply documenting all conversations and responding to written correspondence for the sake of maintaining good records is not nearly enough. Your company and your chosen vendor must form a team. Review the progress of the project in detail with the vendor at certain points in the project and notify them of any perceived problems as soon as possible.
7. Accepting the automation equipment from the vendor before it is ready
Do not allow the automation vendor to ship the machine before it is ready. Allowing this to happen usually prolongs the automation from performing according to plan and damages the vendor/company relationship, which will cost money in the long and short run.
8. Failure to supply the vendor with up-to-date drawings and parts within specification
Maintaining proper and up-to-date documentation is an ongoing challenge for most companies. Failure to supply the vendor with sufficient up-to-date drawings of the project will cause expensive delays. Even the best automation houses will not always detect nonconformance from the parts to the prints until it is too late, making rework inevitable. Supplying parts that are within specification is also very important.
9. Failure to design for automation
Some products are not designed to be manufactured or assembled automatically. Some process components cannot be fed automatically. When automation is difficult, perhaps a semi-automatic solution would be more feasible.
10. Using the wrong technology for your application
Failure of a project engineer to do his/her homework may result in the least efficient use of equipment. Is there an "off-the-shelf" piece of equipment available for your application? Should you employ flexible automation or hard automation? These are the types of questions that should be answered before building a machine.
— This article was submitted by George E. Martin, Director of Product Management-Linear Motion Technology, Bosch Rexroth Corp. (www.boschrexroth-us.com) Linear Motion and Assembly Technologies, Charlotte, NC