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The productivity benefits of automation are obvious. An operator can be far more efficient and effective is he is not tied to a machine—pulling handles, pushing buttons, spinning dials, or worst of all, watching it so it doesn’t make a mistake.
The best form of automation adds in a human touch, or ‘autonomation’, the loose translation of jidoka. That just means that when the machine senses that something is not right, it shuts itself off and signals the operator.
Don’t mistake automatic machine time with ‘regular’ machine time which doesn’t take into account whether there is an operator present or not. Machine cycle time is important because it defines the capacity of a machine. Automatic machine cycle time enables a more productive operator.
In some cases, an operator may start a machine and have to perform a few tasks for two minutes while the machine is processing a part, but can then walk away for the final three minutes of the machine’s cycle. In this instance, machine cycle time is five minutes, but the automatic machine cycle time component is only three minutes.
Take a quick audit of your processes and see if there are any machines that run with an operator standing right there. Then put some thought into what would need to happen to be able to have the operator walk away.
In many cases your company probably has a tooling or a maintenance department that is qualified to safely make equipment modifications. With a little creativity, many machines can be made to operate without an operator standing watch.