The subject of automation is almost like a journey into space because the meanings, interpretations and applications are so broad and variable. Depending on the manufacturing environment being used as a basic platform, it is challenging to standardize or establish a generic or common definition for automation. Thus, the subject invites a thorough exploration, particularly because industrial robots saw sales of $523 million in 2022, according to data from Statista. 

Investigations and other types of surveys specifically focused on the beverage arena have indicated that producers frequently use and interchange mechanization, robotization, computerization, robotics and modernization to define projects that transfer operation and control of manually oriented processes, systems and machines to some form of “automation.” While many terms are used, the dictionary definition is: “The process of converting human effort into machine effort.” 

To help understand the exploration, the term automation will be used to discuss the various impacts, advantages and disadvantages encountered when projects go through the transition stages.

One of the first and intended goals of any automation project is to experience a reduction in manual labor. With the labor shortage, the demand for industrial robots is expected to increase in the United States, China and Japan. Yet, the labor movement got its start during the industrial revolution in the early 20th century and the result was personnel problems caused by reductions. Problems such as skill level upgrades, sourcing personnel, contractual agreements, training programs and local demographics were impacts of automation projects.

Although the severity of labor reduction was variable depending on the environment, the other significant impacts of automation have been centered on changing operating conditions that are focused on operator safety practices, clothing and training; equipment operation, maintenance and protection; facility design and layout; and logistics along the entire supply chain.

In addition to helping with labor and operating conditions, adopting an automation platform from inception to application can deliver several distinct advantages.

Automation equipment can be set up to handle many segments of the supply chain — from processing through distribution. Each operating station should be analyzed and evaluated to determine the feasibility of converting to an automated mode. Plant managers should ask themselves the following: 

  • What is the goal of automation? 
  • Is it practicable? 
  • How will it interface with other subsequent operations? 
  • What is the cost and how long will it take to see a return on investment?

To consider automation possibilities, answering such questions is essential to ensuring that basic projections of increased productivity, labor reductions, product quality. Improved asset utility, elimination of waste and reduced costs are realistic advantages for the project and the supply chain. 

During the evaluation process, extreme caution must be exercised to identify any disadvantages that might result from proceeding too rapidly or not employing comprehensive decision-making criteria. The point is important because in today’s high-tech environment many advanced technological concepts might not have qualified for an automation application and result in a failed project.  

Other than being qualified as an automation ready piece of equipment, system or process, test data should be readily available and studied before procurement and project approval. In addition to moving too quickly in decision making, related disadvantages of automation equipment might include a failure to perform as specified, resulting in legal situations and other performance issues on a process or packaging line that could result in a loss of product, time and money. 

Exploring and choosing the right automation, or any other name chosen, requires serious, comprehensive considerations using a broad spectrum of variables. By ensuring proper due diligence, the company can choose the right automation pieces, ensure that they are properly tested and installed and reduce the misstep risks.