Weighing Options: Should I Automate Processes?

Online Editor

Tracy Rairigh discusses the issues to explore when considering automating existing processes

In the manufacturing industry, as well as many others, there comes a time when many companies begin to consider if automating their process is a step they should take. Whether it’s automotive, food processing or industrial manufacturing, the best way to start out is to evaluate your processes.

Determine areas that aren’t operating at optimal levels. Next, find out why. Is it a lack of workforce, old equipment, maybe not enough space? Any of these, and dozens more, will contribute to productivity issues and depending on the situation your company is in, all of them could be a viable reason to consider automating your existing processes.

Pros Versus Cons

Your team will want to create a list of what they consider specific pros and cons that are exclusive to the processes, but here are some to consider.


  • Become more competitive in your market
  • Better allocation of workforce
  • Consistent quality
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Improved safety
  • Reduced errors
  • Repeatability
  • Space optimisation
  • Standardise and streamline processes


  • Automating the wrong process
  • Does not replace QA
  • Inability to self-diagnose or make critical decisions
  • Initial capital expenditures
  • Overadjustment potential
  • Worker displacement

Good Logic

There are some instances where robots or computer-controlled interfaces may fall short. In situations where critical decisions must be made, human interaction is required. Where we use logic and intuition to make rapid decisions, computers follow a predetermined path from programmed data making it difficult to circumvent certain situations. Basically, if a new situation arises that has not been considered, the computer or AI has no base of reference on how to proceed.

Two-Factor Determination       

A major part of automation is determining if a process can and should be automated. Not all will see enough benefit for it to be feasible, nor is it always appropriate. There are many restrictive circumstances such as space, potential ROI, and initial costs.

Researching other companies that have automated similar processes as well as types of equipment used can be a huge benefit. Finding out their likes and dislikes about the equipment, contractors, and what they’d do differently could save a lot of time, money, and stress. Recommendations from others who’ve taken the plunge can go a long way in the decision-making process.

Determine if it’s cost effective, and if you’ll update one or all processes. Is there enough space in the existing facility for these changes or is a new location required? Will it save you space while allowing streamlining?

Supporting The System

Next, ensure that all key parties such as stakeholders and upper management are on board with the idea. Share both the benefits and the downfalls and that gives them an opportunity to ask questions. This will help ensure that they feel included, valued, and have the tools to make an informed decision. There’s no better way to get someone onboard than by giving them all the facts and talking it over until they’re comfortable with their choice.


Another major consideration is the sustainability aspect. This has several different approaches to consider. Is the initial investment in line with the company’s long-term goals? Obviously there could be a great cost involved, but will you see the ROI in less than a year? Maybe five? If the company has a long-term growth plan of a 20% increase over a five-year period, will this help reach that goal or push it out?

Be sure to check the numbers. Is the current market trending towards higher needs of the product you manufacture? Will your product still be needed in five years if you increase production, or will it phase out due to flooding the market or obsolescence?

How does it measure up in the green space? If you’re in an industry that is pushing to go green, is the process you’re considering going to follow along with future requirements? Eco-friendly is gaining by leaps and bounds and you need to ensure that any updates (and investments) you make will still be relevant in the future.

Maintaining Greatness

Once you’re committed, plan for fulfilment, not failure. Put training plans in place for those who will be using the equipment and be ready to support when you launch the new process. Keep accurate records of things gone right and things gone wrong and continuously evaluate the automation process. Don’t fear change, but don’t go overboard either.


Be prepared to kick some tyres and tighten some lugnuts during the decision and implementation processes. These things take time, some hit rough patches, but if you do the homework beforehand, you can choose the best process to automate, the best equipment to use, and stay ahead of anything unexpected. In the end you’ll see improvement in the ROI, relationships with employees and customers, as well as higher quality, productivity and repeatability.

Tracy Rairigh is with APEC