I-Connect Survey: Automation or Reducing Process Steps?


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In our recent survey, we asked what is more important: automating a process or eliminating process steps.

Reducing a process step in an assembly line, which may result in a more efficient process—by taking the waste out of the value stream—is a key factor towards lean manufacturing. Automation, meanwhile, takes the manual aspect out of the process and replaces it with a system that works 24/7. Of course, automation requires heavy investment; and a challenge here, as pointed out in one of the responses in the survey, is justifying the need for automation.

Interestingly, the results are 50-50. Half of our respondents say automating a process is more important, while the remaining 50 percent consider eliminating a process step a key strategy.

Graph1-Survey-13Jul16.JPG

Source: I-Connect007 Survey

One comment is that both are important—and that they go hand in hand. However, while automation can be done in most process areas, eliminating process steps is not possible in many areas. Also, in the case of smaller manufacturers, their facilities most of the time do not lend themselves well to either: some respondents say they have islands of automation rather than a real, end-to-end process automation.

Reducing handling errors is one of the biggest factors that require the need for automation. This is followed by faster throughput and lower labor costs. Another reason to automate, according to the survey, is to deliver more consistent quality results.

Graph2-Survey-13Jul16.JPG

Source: I-Connect007 Survey

Respondents highlighted some of the key processes that they consider important to automate: drilling and routing, installing fasteners, wet process, via fill, image transfer, lamination, and inspection, particularly AOI.

When it comes to eliminating process steps, the following are some of the key processes that respondents consider eliminating: plating, lamination, solder mask, repetitive measurements, and inventory management. Apart from eliminating steps in the process, respondents say reducing takt time is the next best thing.

Eliminating process steps, however, requires several justifications. Survey respondents highlight the ROI, cost, timeframe, and testing considerations when it comes to reducing process steps.

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