A common misconception about process automation is that it only serves to save employees time- and whilst this is certainly true, it can only be considered the tip of the iceberg in terms of the benefits it can have to a growing business.
Using technology to automate specific tasks, workflows or processes can also help to reduce errors, reduce unnecessary spending and enable expensive internal staff to remain focused on strategic operations. As Coronavirus accelerates the transition to an online world, more manufacturers than ever are looking to digitise their processes in a bid to outpace the competition- and it’s easy to see why.
Why should I automate?
One of the most harmful aspects of a business environment is inefficiency. Lost time means lost profit, and in a world where economic stability is shifting so regularly, it's a good idea to protect your business from unnecessary losses.
According to a recent study by Access, 48% of manufacturing employees estimate that they waste three or more hours a day using inefficient systems- a figure that equates to £28,000 of wasted expenditure per year.
Even systems that are considered robust can harbour weaknesses that ultimately haemorrhage money. That being said, one of the biggest advantages of automating existing processes is that they do not take a long time to begin proving their worth and saving money.
A good example of this is our work with Warburtons:
Traditionally, Warburtons managed their quality management process through clunky and ultimately now outdated methods. Significant manual work was required each week to record and share data using paper-based records, which sapped valuable time from team members and prevented the data from being immediately available to other business units.
There was also a concern that data captured in this manner had the potential to be incomplete or inaccurate, which would have a detrimental knock-on impact on reporting and analysis.
For a company with standards as high as Warburtons, this potential for error was unacceptable. We were able to create systems for fully-integrated and automated QA reporting, allowing them to adapt their processes accordingly.
5 Ways Automation Can Save Manufacturers Money
1. Getting the Best From Your Staff
It’s no secret that the process of hiring and maintaining staff is expensive. There are many additional costs other than just their salary. It is logical to say that when you shift manual tasks ordinarily completed by a human to a digital system, you will save money.
Automated workflow systems can handle an array of repetitive tasks with much higher precision and speed than humans can. Software-based automation systems for example can handle notifications, data entry, reporting and much more.
Of course, that isn’t to say that human employees should be completely replaced by tech. In fact, far from it.
It actually allows you to get more from your human staff by enabling them to focus on strategic aspects directly related to your core business, solving problems that require judicious thinking and maintaining automated systems.
2. Making fewer mistakes (and communicating better)
Before the widespread adoption of automation, the majority of manual processes in a manufacturing business relied on human intelligence to be completed. That was true for everything from the menial day-to-day tasks to high-priority decision-making.
This is not to say that human employees are careless, even the most dedicated member of staff will make errors from time to time, especially when their workloads are increased or they are given tight deadlines.
Digital automation software deals with information or processes the way they are expected to every single time- they do not suffer from distractions, misclicks or misreads when dealing with data.
Despite simply being human nature, mistakes can cost a business thousands of pounds, with additional funds often being required in order to correct the error- this is without considering the damage it can do to a client relationship or contract.
In 2019, the NHS automated the process of fulfilling prescriptions for chronic conditions such as cancer and rheumatology. In critical cases such as these, it is imperative that there is no room for human error, and automation allows the risk of this to be mitigated to almost nil. It also enabled internal staff to better spend their time making important clinical interventions and at patient bedsides.
3. Making better, well-informed decisions
Before making any core business decision, it’s crucial that you have the data you need. Without data, you can’t be sure of the extent of the problem you hope to solve, the roots of the issue or the knock-on effect it is having on other parts of the business.
Simply put, without considering all available data, you shouldn’t make large-scale changes.
One of the big advantages of automating internal systems is that they are able to collect, collate and analyse information automatically, allowing you to implement small-scale changes to your business much more quickly.
This allows you to stay reactive, making small-scale changes where necessary and ultimately saving money where processes had not classically been optimised.
Indicative of the ways data can streamline the manufacturing process can be seen in the digital transformation of a major Bosch Automotive factory in China. The company has implemented a system for collecting data from its machinery that allows for real-time notifications to be pushed to staff members when a bottleneck is identified in production.
In automating their analytics processes, Bosch are also able to predict equipment failures, allowing them to enable maintenance operations without interruption to the production line.
4. Lowering your operational costs
Workflow automation systems offer monitoring features that allow managers to identify any bottlenecks and waste of time and resources. If you associate this with all the reporting and analytics possibilities, you’ll be able to find creative ways to save time and money.
When you begin to automate your processes, it becomes very clear how much time people spend running around in circles. It happens because the data was not available when they needed it. This obviously costs your company both time and money.
Amazon is a great example of how automation can increase the efficiency of existing staff. In the majority of their fulfilment centres, humans and robots backed by robust database solutions work in tandem to pick and fulfil orders, streamlining the logistics process.
In automating a classically labour intensive business process, Amazon was able to offer improved shipping options and increase customer satisfaction.
5. Doing more with less
The question of how to increase output whilst saving time and cutting costs is nothing new to manufacturing businesses. But as COVID continues to shape the world we live in, for many it has become crucial.
Workflow automation allows your company to do a lot more with less: less time, less money, fewer people, etc. We have to face the facts: workflow automation takes care of tasks much faster than any human worker could even dream of.
It doesn’t mean you should get rid of all your employees. It just means that their time must be refocused on areas in which technology cannot replace them.
In a 2018 report from The Manufacturer, 89% of study respondents indicated that they believed smart factory technologies would enable their staff to work smarter and remain focused on higher-level operational tasking.