Happy’s Essential Skills: CIM and Automation Planning, Part 2—Six Principles of Automation

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In Part 1 of this column, I discussed the foundation of CIM and the principles of automation planning. In Part 2, we will assume that all the necessary preparations in strategy and tactics have been completed. How does it all fit together for successful implementation? This problem affects large, wealthy companies as well as the smallest job shop.

I would suggest that successful implementation of automation depends on close adherence to some cardinal principles. Six are reviewed here:

  • Superiority
  • Simplicity
  • Flexibility
  • Compatibility
  • Manufacturability
  • Reliability

Superiority: automation must contribute to business goals

That business goal in simplest terms is being the best. But "best" is a relative term, so how would you rate yourself?  Would it be on experience, reputation, technology, profitability, service, and engineering? How would you compare yourself to your competitors? What do your customers think is important in rating "BEST"; Quality, Delivery, Price, Flexibility, Technology, Service? The selection of which area of performance that automation is aimed  at will have the most influence on picking vendors and programs.

The '20−40−40 Rule'

In a recent publication about Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM)[5], Wickham Skinner quoted the General Electric '20−40−40 Rule'. This says that in typical fabrication and assembly production plant only 20% of any ultimate cost saving and performance improvements come from productivity changes and conventional engineering concepts and techniques. Whereas, 40% can come from manufacturing policy and structure changes (TQC, LEAN) and 40% from improvements in fundamental manufacturing technology.

This gives a clear alternative to smaller companies who can't afford expensive automated equipment. Their management can make a much more affordable investment in "Policy and Structure Changes." This is just another way of saying 'manufacturing philosophies'.  As mentioned earlier, the important ingredient is commitment to be the best. Once this commitment has been made, then can come the investment in education, awareness, and training.

Simplicity: automation must help simplify manufacturing

It is imperative to use the technology of automation to simplify the production task rather than make it more complex. Part of simplifying the problem is not automating at all any operation that is better done by human skills. The basis for this principle is that automation is consistent, untiring, and fast, but unlike humans, it is not possessed with common sense and the ability to change its own programming when a glitch appears. To take advantage of automation then, we have to simplify all the factors from the previous manual technique.

Total Quality Control (TQC)

Total Quality Control (TQC) is the foundation of any excellence program. It is a management and operating philosophy totally committed to quality that focuses on continuous process improvements using data and the scientific method making perfection a goal. It requires universal participation by everyone everywhere, working as a team, so that the result is customer satisfaction, where expectations are consistently exceeded for both internal and external customers.

The vital elements of the TQC process are clearly-understood and agreed-upon goals; appropriate performance measures; rigorous information collection and qualitative as well as quantitative analysis; an approach utilizing creative problem solving and first and foremost, participation by all members using teamwork. This entire process must be driven by top management.

The working process of TQC is to fix the process and make it work better. All activities are processes, so the TQC methodology starts with a four-step procedure:

  1. Identify the problem
  2. Identify the causes
  3. Eliminate the causes
  4. Monitor the process

Although this may seem simple, it is—but only after everyone involved—workers, supervisors, engineers, and managers have received training on the elements of TQC. Management must back this training, from providing the initial instructions all the way to statistics experimentation, to time for employees to learn to use these skills, but primarily in reinforcing that commitment to be the best.

So why has TQC taken so long to be accepted? The answer may be that TQC is anti-intuitive in our business culture. For instance:

If we don't trust a vendor’s performance ...


If we don't trust our capacity...


If we don't trust our inventory levels ...


If we don't trust our quality...


If we don't have time to do something right...


In other words, our business culture causes us to react to uncertainty by adding complexity.

In fact, our reward systems encourage complexity. Gaining control over, and reducing complexity through knowledge and understanding are the primary objectives of TQC. One major task of automation is to simplify and organize complexity. A simpler process has:

  • Less inventory
  • Less floor spaces
  • Less people
  • Less process steps
  • Less part numbers
  • Less options, accessories, manuals, literatures, paperwork
  • Less chance for error per unit of output

One role the computers of automation play in TQC is the collection, reduction and analysis of information and data. When a problem has been solved, the systemization role of automation constantly monitors to keep it under control.

Standardization is another method of simplification. Many times that is why you will see companies standardizing panel sizes in production. What they may lose in material cost they can make up in improved performance from a simpler automated process. Other candidates for standardization is image transfer, and NC tooling, procedures, equipment, and especially training. Even such obscure tasks as costing and accounting can benefit from standardization. But let me say it one more time: Automation will require simplification.


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