Factory Automation

Justifying Automation in Your Factory

Whether you’re new to automation and robotics, or building on existing automation, making a solid business case is an essential step in the process. However, justification needs to reach beyond finances. Having buy-in from all stakeholders will greatly improve the odds of success for an automation project.

When determining what level of automation is appropriate, it’s important to consider multiple factors, including the following:
• Overall objectives for the automation project
• A complete ROI picture that includes soft costs
• Labor considerations
• Minimizing risk and planning for success

What are the overall objectives for the automation project?
This question used to have a simple, straightforward answer: reduce labor costs. However, today’s automation solutions can support a more complex business strategy while still making sense financially. For example, does the factory need more flexibility? Being able to ramp up and scale back without having to hire and let go of workers can be a powerful driving force to implement automation.
Are there not enough reliable workers available to keep production running? In recent years, the skills gap and labor shortage in manufacturing have become a serious issue. Providing a safe, pleasant work environment is also frequently becoming a factor that feeds in to the human resources part of the equation.

What is the complete ROI picture, including soft costs?
The ROI calculation used to be simple: compare the capital spent now versus labor as an ongoing cost. Regarding initial hard costs, a common benchmark is seeing payback in 2 years or less. This ROI of under 2 years is frequently achievable, but sometimes misses the mark of including non-financial objectives, and including soft costs to encompass the total cost of ownership.

Today’s ROI equation needs to look at the limits to growth and efficiency without automation, as well as the soft costs incurred with automation. Soft costs will include training, and can also include services tied to the automation such as monitoring and data collection and analysis for Internet of Things (IoT) solutions. With IoT monitoring, predictive maintenance can come into play and significantly reduce down time. If automation can increase OEE from 70% to 85%, ROI will be realized even faster.

The good news for training soft costs is that current automation solutions are typically much easier to use than before. Depending on the specific application, automation can even be as simple as an intuitive touch interface, with no programming skills required.
Of course, the initial purchase cost of the machinery is still a primary consideration. However, with new lower cost options such as cobots, taking a first step into the world of automation doesn’t have to be as big of an investment as would have been required a decade ago.

What are the actual labor considerations?
Comparing automation costs to labor costs isn’t so simple any more. As mentioned in the above points, the availability and reliability of labor can’t be taken for granted. If there isn’t enough workforce availability, then automation becomes a necessity, not an option.
With labor shortages, the cost of not automating can be expensive idle time when a machine operator can’t be found to work a shift, resulting in penalties for missed deliveries, and reputational damage. And, understanding the true cost of overseas labor can make that option less attractive compared to implementing automation.

Unexpected safety regulations can also come into play regarding distancing for human workers. If minimizing risk is a priority and one of the main objectives of the automation project, then the ROI equation needs to look at risk scenarios.
Even for companies that have a solid work force in place, retention is still an issue. If increasing employee retention is a priority, then automation can help take over some of the dirty, dangerous jobs. A factory with new technology that offers a safe environment with ongoing investments in training will be more competitive and better able to attract and retain energetic, enthusiastic, reliable workers.

How will you minimize risk and plan for success?
The importance of planning for success in initial projects cannot be overstressed. The best way to get buy-in from management and employees is to demonstrate the benefits of automation in action. Simulations can give a good idea of how the automation will work on the floor, and minimize the risk of surprises. Another risk factor to consider is the turnover process. What happens when the integrator leaves? How easy is it to train personnel on the new equipment and keep it running?

When evaluating success, look beyond the project itself, and see what happens to the people involved. Are they freed up for higher level strategic tasks? Are people showing up for their shifts? Has retention and recruiting been affected? Factors that go beyond operational efficiency are key to the overall success of the implementation.

To learn more about justifying an automation project, contact

Factory Automation

Common Sense Robotic Automation

Common Sense Robotics

There are many reasons manufacturers consider integrating automation into their processes. One of the first questions that is asked around the table is “Does the ROI on this investment make it all worthwhile?”

Why are we doing this?
There can be multiple drivers in any capital project and this is especially true for automation. Getting to the bottom of the customer’s needs and expectations at the outset is the most important step to starting off on the right foot and focusing the solution in the right direction.
Foremost, work to understand the customer’s current process, their expectations for a solution and the human interaction upon completion of the project. Are they trying to eliminate ergonomic or safety issues? For example, are there repetitive tasks or heavy parts that could be causing injury or safety concerns? Are they trying to reduce/eliminate manpower to improve efficiency and reduce costs? Are they attempting to improve consistency in quality results or production rates?

Why a robot and not some other form of automation?

Capital equipment is typically purchased and then depreciated year after year, often long after their usability has become irrelevant. A piece of automation may be used for a single project and never used again.

The flexibility of a robot versus a fixed piece of automation is one of the main drivers manufacturers will invest in robotics. Because of their flexible nature, there are fewer considerations in up front engineering with robots. They can easily adapt to changes in projects or in the scope of a project. Their programmability allows them to pivot to a new line, different location and even a new task. For example, in automotive assembly where models are ever changing, and the parts changing, the robot can be reprogrammed to new part needs. A robot’s redeployability as a capital equipment asset is a very appealing characteristic for the accountants and investors.

How do you reduce risk?

There are lots of proactive steps that can be taken to reduce project risk, both on the side of the manufacturer and the customer. Identifying risks upfront will go a long way to provide a safer solution that meets the customer’s specifications. The discovery and specification phase should ask questions and clearly identify the elements that are priorities for the customer: 

• What are you going to do with the robot and what is the required?
• What cycle time and production rates do you require?
• What are the payload and reach requirements
• If assembly, what accuracy is required? 

Today’s technologies like risk assessment tools and software for modelling concepts and layouts can do things like simulate and verify robot moves and paths. 
If a customer requires a part of a solution that hasn’t been in your repertoire , there could be a place for a reduced level feasibility study. Maybe certain stations have a higher risk because the way we’re proposing is new to both of us. If they’re looking at purchasing multiple stations, that’s when it makes sense to create a prototype that will identify any issues first. Finding problems in engineering is always less costly than finding it in debugging or worse after installation!

How do you decide on a robot manufacturer? 

Most of the large robot manufacturers do a good job providing robots for all the basic applications. A customer may already have a brand preference because they’ve done research or they have a factory full of a particular brand.  It’s important to pay attention to customer experience. Often they want to use the same brand because they know how it works, how to program it, how to debug etc. Even in this case it’s important to emphasize training, as companies tend to short change at this step. 

When choosing a robot, customers will also consider the availability of accessories. 
2d vision has become very robust and 3d vision is continually improving. Most brands have common industrial communication and IO protocols in addition to End of Arm Tooling solutions. Although many custom EOAT are still being fabricated, standard, off the shelf components are great for spares and cut down on design costs.

How important is service and support?
Your automation system and robotics are a significant investment, so the service and support you’re going to get if something’s not working is of prime importance. When your robot or conveyance is down it’s costing you money. Make sure that training, maintenance, and support are more than a detail for your automation suppliers. 

If you would like to hear more about this topic, check out the Robot Industry Podcast where our own Lyle Weaver was interviewed on Common Sense Robotics.

Factory Automation

Design for Manufacturing and Design for Assembly

You’ve got a great new or updated product that you’re rushing to put into production as quickly as possible. While it may be tempting to take shortcuts in the early design phases, make sure that design for manufacturing (DFM) and design for automation (DFA) are included early. 

What are DFM and DFA?

Design for manufacturing often referred to as DFM – the goal of DFM is to ensure that the most cost-effective materials, parts, and processes are used to produce a product.

Design for automation, also referred to as DFA – traditionally, DFA meant design for assembly. Now designing for assembly must also take into considerations for automation. DFA can reduce labor costs, improve quality, and increase consistency in the production process.

Why can’t DFM and DFA be done closer to production? 

The early design stages are when it’s much easier to make changes. Late changes will delay your time to market, cost more, and be more difficult to implement. Including DFM and DFA early and throughout the design process minimizes costs while improving quality and efficiency. Even if you’re redesigning an existing product, it’s worth tearing down the current design and making the best choices for your current manufacturing and automation capabilities. 

How can DFM and DFA minimize costs and speed time to market?

Prevent problems

The earliest choices made about materials and processes are critical.  Either the material or the process can drive decision-making.  If several materials could be used, then look at the production processes for each material. If you want to use an existing production process, then look at the materials that are most compatible with that process. 

Designing for automation includes answering the engineering questions around how you are going to grip the part? What features will make assembly easier, such as chamfers on mating parts. What features will the tooling need? Will your pallet need a left and right considerations, and how will they be error proofed if there is a manual load station. DFA will cover all these special considerations.

Speed production

Designing for automation allows the product to seamlessly move into production without having to start thinking about automation late in the game. What setup is required? How quickly can changeovers be done? By asking these questions at the earliest stages, the overall part design can accommodate faster production and automation tooling design.

+fastening methods, type of adhesive used

+modular design? Applicable to small part assembly?

+automation: tooling

Minimize errors

Make assembly mistake-proof by using tabs, slots, foolproof orientation, colors and other best practices.

Ensure that tolerances are reasonable for the processes being used, and that quality can be checked  easily and frequently.

+DFA: self-locating parts

Maximize yield

With fewer mistakes in assembly, waste can be minimized if not eliminated; which maximizes yield.

Reduce costs

By making choices with manufacturing and automation in mind, you can 

  • actively select common materials and parts to reduce inventory.

DFA- what level of automation makes the most sense? This usually depends on volume and tooling flexibility.

Manufacturers that use DFM – design for manufacturing and DFA design for automation can get to market faster as parts fit together tooling works better and the entire assembly process is smoother.

At Ehrhardt Engineered Solutions we are experts at helping our clients design parts that are easier to feed, pick, place and assemble. Contact us at 877-386-7856 or email us at

Factory Automation

What is the Cost of Factory Automation

Automation savings extend beyond labor costs

Decades ago, manufacturers that were considering using automation compared the cost of automating against the direct cost of labor they’d be replacing. Adding the number of people, shifts, and hours provided a benchmark to use for determining ROI.

That same basic calculation can be used as a starting point today; the benchmark ROI of an automation project now is typically under 24 months. However, that historical capital expenditure calculation excludes many important factors that should also be considerations:

Is human labor even available?
What additional strategic advantages does automation offer?
What is the total cost and value of ownership?

Using automation to solve the labor shortage in manufacturing
With the current skilled labor shortage in many factories, the benefits of automation extend well beyond basic cost justification. When factories cannot fill open labor positions, they can’t meet production requirements. The need to increase production without recruiting will often drive a company to invest in automation. The costs of not being able to fulfill orders and losing customers has long-reaching implications that extend beyond a basic ROI calculation.

In addition to keeping production running, automation also helps companies attract workers. People who are interested in working in manufacturing are more likely to choose a company that is actively investing in automation and robotics and is poised to be competitive now and in the future. As well, for people looking for security, a company that has recently invested in automation will appear more stable and secure than a company that isn’t modernizing its operations.

Instead of replacing workers with robots, manufacturers are adding robotics and automation and retraining their valuable labor force for positions that include working with collaborative robots and using automation solutions.

Benefiting from the strategic advantages of automation
In addition to using automation to help attract and retain labour, automation offers many other strategic advantages.

Elevating health & safety levels by automating dangerous jobs
Using automation and robotics for dull, dirty, dangerous jobs can help factories develop an impressive safety record. Health & safety levels can be a deciding factor for potential employees, investors, and customers. In addition to reducing dangerous jobs, robots can also be used for repetitive movements, leaving humans with ergonomic jobs that won’t cause repetitive stress injury.

Increasing scalability and flexibility with automation
When companies first started implementing automation, the cost equation was most favorable for industries like automotive manufacturing with low mix, high volume production needs. Now, with the reduced cost of automation and the availability of collaborative robots, automation makes financial sense for factories that have a wide range of higher mix, lower volume production runs.
With an automated line or automated production cells, manufacturers can be better equipped to take on bigger orders, or to offer a wider range of options.

Raising quality levels using the repeatability and reliability of automation
A properly programmed robot can perform the same movement the same way with a higher degree of accuracy than a human. New vision capabilities give robotics an even higher capacity for quality control and repeatability. Depending on the type of production being done, this high repeatability and quality potential can be exploited to a manufacturer’s advantage. As well, with data collection and management, traceability can also be incorporated into the manufacturing process.

Winning contracts with automation as a competitive edge
If a customer is comparing several manufacturers, and you’re able to offer the quality, reliability and efficiency benefits of using an automated solution, you’ll have an edge over the other factories using older, less reliable systems. The better-equipped factory will seem more likely to be able to deliver in-spec goods on time.
Understanding the total cost and value of ownership

When evaluating the cost of automation, it’s important to consider the manufacturer’s situation: are they in a survive-or-die scenario or are they in a position to invest in longer-term growth? Automation can provide the solution to both of these issues, and both must be considered in order to budget properly.

With too much focus on immediate needs, future growth won’t be supported; but, with too much emphasis on the future, the current financial position of a company can be compromised. It’s important to discuss potential growth plans with an implementer so that the foundation for a future phase of automation can be accommodated while respecting immediate needs and budget constraints.

The planning and implementation process are also important factors to consider. Having an experienced implementation team that can design a robust system, provide the integration needed with other systems, and deliver the system on time is invaluable.
As far as tangible goods that must be accounted for, there is the cost of the new machinery, plus spare parts and maintenance. For tangible value, the decreased cost of rework and rejects should be factored in.
Although it can be tempting to simplify the ROI calculation, to maximize your investment in automation, it’s essential to consider all costs and all value gained over the productive life of an automated solution.

Do you need factory automation or a custom machine. Do you need to learn more about using a robot or automation for a specific production process? Contact us at Ehrhardt Engineered Systems at: 877-386-7856 or email us at

Factory Automation

How Lean Automation Contributes to a Lean Production Process

When we picture automation, it’s often big multi-station systems with feeders, conveyors, and testing all running with little to no manual intervention. Those systems have been maximizing efficiency in industries like automotive for decades. However, high-volume, low-mix automation solutions are not the only option. 

With the advent of technology like collaborative robotics, automation can be implemented as free-standing stations using a lean approach. High-mix, low-volume assembly operations can take advantage of properly designed lean stations to achieve lean manufacturing objectives including reduced waste and improved quality.

Lean automation can offer multiple benefits:

  • Fast implementation
  • Low capital expenditure
  • Reduced waste
  • Quick ramp up
  • Minimal maintenance

Have a lean system up and running quickly

How quickly depends on the specific implementation. First, we need to look at your overall process to find the best opportunity to implement a lean automation system.  We’ll use lean principles to evaluate your process by asking several questions:

  • Does every step add value?
  • Can any steps be removed?
  • Which steps can be improved?
  • Where can waste be reduced?
  • How can inefficiencies be eliminated?

When we’re looking at adding free-standing robots to a manual process, we’ll likely be considering force-limited collaborative robots that move slower than the types of robots used in automotive assembly. The best station for a collaborative robot isn’t necessarily a process that needs to be done quickly.

High-potential opportunities to implement a collaborative robot include processes that are:

  • Repetitive
  • Precise
  • Dangerous

Robot welding systems are a common independent-station application. Note that even though a collaborative-type robot can be used for a dangerous operation like welding, additional appropriate safety guarding must be designed into the system.

Minimize costs with a lean automation system

An experienced robot systems integrator knows how to right-size robots to suit the application. That means you won’t pay extra for a heavy-duty robot to do a task that a lighter robot could accomplish. 

In addition to the robot itself, tooling is another important cost consideration. By choosing a unit that can use existing off-the-shelf components, tooling costs are minimized. 

When using a robot for an assembly operation, parts presentation must be considered. If a complex feeding mechanism will be required, that particular process or end-of-arm tooling may not be ideal.

We’ll look at processes that can use robotic automation with minimal customization and no special end-of-arm tooling or complex parts presentation required. Those constraints will help speed implementation and minimize costs.

Finding ways to use one robot for more than one station is an excellent way to get the most out of an investment in automation. A robot that can easily change end-of-arm tooling can be used for multiple tasks, as long as other requirements such as payload are met. 

Using one robot for more than one task isn’t an approach we would recommend for a high-volume operation. But, for a low-volume operation, moving one unit between two stations is often cost effective. This strategy can even be implemented in phases, with the robot first used in one station as proof of concept.

Improve quality to reduce waste

In addition to the precision inherent in robotic systems, new vision capabilities are making robots an excellent choice to increase quality levels. By increasing the percentage of in-process and finished items that pass quality iinspections, waste can be significantly reduced.

Ramp up right away

With a lean automation system that’s not heavily customized, there is less to test and adjust at both the factory acceptance and site acceptance steps. Training is also simplified. The collaborative robots that are typically used in a lean automation setup are often designed with an easy-to-use interface that requires minimal training. 

Simplify maintenance with a lean design

By implementing a robotic system that uses off-the-shelf components instead of customized tooling, replacement parts are typically readily available. And, specific expertise for the custom machine isn’t necessary to perform standard repairs. Standard repairs should be able to be done by any technician qualified to repair robots from that manufacturer.

Right-sizing automation is critical

A robotic systems integrator with experience implementing lean systems can ensure that the robots specified will provide as many benefits as possible, including low initial investment, minimal customization, fast implementation, and simplified maintenance.

Want to learn more about using a lean automation system for a specific production process? Contact us at Ehrhardt Engineered Systems at: 877-386-7856 or email us at

Factory Automation

How to Choose an Industrial Robot for Small Part Assembly

Choosing an Industrial Robot Using a Decision Matrix

When you start investigating available industrial robots at trade shows or through industry news, you’ll run across a handful of names that come up repeatedly. All of the top robot manufacturers have a proven track record, an impressive offering, and continue to innovate. So how do you choose one from the other?

List the factors that are most important for your operation and rank those factors with relative importance. You can then use this ranking to compare different models from different manufacturers in a decision matrix.

A decision matrix helps narrow down the choices of industrial robots for small part assembly

Before even considering cost, use criteria that narrow down the contenders based on your needs. Use the answers to the questions below to rank the importance of familiarity, local service and support, specialization, collaboration, speed, and mobility on your decision matrix.

Is your team familiar with any industrial robots?

If you’re already using one type of robot in your facility, then some of your team has training using that robot, and you’re already carrying spare parts from that manufacturer. Sticking with the same manufacturer can speed your implementation and streamline your spare parts inventory as long as that manufacturer offers the type of robot you need.

How much training, service, and support do you require?

If your team will require extensive training and support, then a manufacturer that provides service and support locally should be an important factor in your selection process.

Does your automation require a specialized ability?

The best robot for you will largely be determined by what you need it to do. Common tasks done by robotic automation include welding, assembly, picking/placing, machine tending, and palletizing.

In addition to the task, you can also narrow your specifications by identifying the payload, reach, footprint, and any special tooling you require.

The available models for each task and specification list will vary according to the manufacturer. The more specialized your requirements are, the fewer choices you’ll have.

Can the robot be safely isolated or does it need to work in collaboration with people?

If you know that you need a robot that can be used safely in proximity to humans, then you need a collaborative robot. You may still need additional safety equipment in addition to the built-in features of the collaborative robot, but knowing that you should
look at collaborative robots will help focus your decision matrix.

Collaborative robots are not good options for high-speed operations due to their safe speed restrictions. If you need an operation done at high speed, you’ll likely not be considering collaborative options.

Will the robot be fixed in place, or does it need mobility?

Depending on your specifications, you may not have a choice for this question. Large, heavy robots need to be fixed to be safe. However, lighter collaborative robots are often mobile and can even do double-duty, moving from one station to another.

How do cost and availability rank?

Of course, cost and availability will play into your decision-making process. However, they aren’t the first questions to ask, and they shouldn’t be the determining factors. A cheap robot delivered tomorrow is not the right choice if it won’t do what you need, it’s
too slow, and you can’t get service or parts for it.

Need help deciding which industrial robot is best to automate your small part assembly process?

Contact us at Ehrhardt Engineered Systems at:

877-386-7856 or email us

Factory Automation

The Efficiency of Robots

Using robots to improve efficiency 

A strategic, well-implemented automation solution will increase operational efficiency. Most people accept that statement at face value. However, when you talk about robotic automation, fears and misinformation start to play into the equation.

When considering how to best proceed with a robotic automation project, it’s important to calm fears, manage expectations and demonstrate potential financial returns. Many people fear that robots are taking jobs and creating unsafe conditions, or they think robots are much more intelligent and expensive than they actually are. We’re going to clear up the confusion about what robots will and won’t do and show that the reality of robotic automation is nothing to fear and does not require fantasy.

Robots won’t take jobs

One of the most-often heard fears is that robots take jobs. This scenario has not proven to be true. To start, you cannot simply replace a person with a robot. What you can do is redesign a production process to use robots for certain tasks. 

Robots will take over dull, dirty, dangerous tasks

Ideal tasks for robots are dull, dirty, dangerous jobs that are not highly desirable for people. Tasks that require exposure to hazardous conditions, extreme temperatures, heat, or noise are just a few examples of the type of tasks that are better suited to robots than people.

Robots will create jobs 

Companies that use well-implemented robotic automation to achieve operational efficiency can increase their profitability and ability to react to market demands. Where automation can really shine and out-perform less efficient systems is scalability and adaptability. 

With an automated, efficient production process, your capacity can increase, allowing higher volume orders. And, a more efficient process may also expand your business by accommodating lower-volume orders that you previously had to turn down due to low margin. 

Robots will require processes to change

Resistance to robots is often reluctance to change. When you need to find a document, do you wish that you could sift through folders of filed papers by hand? You probably take for granted that you can perform a search in a few clicks. Even though at first the transition from paper to digital wasn’t easy, we now appreciate the efficiency. 

A company that refuses to take advantage of efficiency tools most likely won’t be competitive or profitable enough to stay in business for long. By strategically implementing more efficient systems and training people to use those systems, forward thinking companies are able to scale and grow.

Robots will improve safety in a well-designed process

By taking over dull, dirty, dangerous tasks as mentioned above, robots can easily and demonstrably improve safety levels. As with all machinery, safety must be included in the design of the robotic process, and safety procedures and best practices must be followed. 

The type of robot and safety precautions required will depend on the process. Is the robot using a cutter or a welding torch? Is the robotic arm moving near a wall or beam where a person could be pinned? Multiple aspects will play into safety considerations to determine if caging or fencing is needed, and what type of built-in safety features may be required. 

Robots won’t figure out what to do without instruction

While vision systems have come a long way, robots are still relatively dumb machines. They require programming and precise instructions to carry out predictable, repeatable tasks. Complex tasks that require creative thinking are less suitable for robotic automation. 

Robots will require multiple components

Robots do not have to be 100% customized, but they aren’t quite plug and play, either. As part of the implementation process, the components needed for the robot must be determined. The speed, payload, and dexterity required will narrow down the options for the motor, base, and end-of-arm tooling needed. Someone will need to program, troubleshoot, and maintain the robot. The level of that person’s familiarity with different robots will also play into the selection of the robot’s programming interface.

Robots will show a return on investment

How much to invest in robotics, and when to implement it is a strategic business decision. Massive up-front investment can certainly make sense as part of a business transformation. However, depending on the circumstances, it can make more sense to first implement a quick-win solution.  

A good introductory implementation demonstrates how robotics can be cost-effectively incorporated into a production process. After overcoming the initial hurdle of disproving fears and showing a return, a larger automation solution can be designed.

Using robots in an automation process is no longer new. It’s a proven means of achieving peak efficiency and can even improve safety. For more information about what robots can and can’t do, contact us at Ehrhardt Engineered Systems at 877-386-7856 or email us at

Factory Automation

How to Purchase an Automated System

Notes from the RIA webinar

In a Robotics Online webinar hosted by A3, the Association for Advancing Automation on January 9, Russ Lauer, Director of Automation Sales for Ehrhardt Engineered Solutions, and Rob Veldhuis, Director of Sales for Systematix Automation, shared their expertise on purchasing an automated system.
Russ and Rob offered actionable insights for manufacturers looking to purchase an automation system, ranging from single-station units to large, multi-station systems. Below are the key takeaways for the different topics covered in the webinar:

Factory Automation

Automating Small Part Assembly with Vision

Inspection best practices

Automating Small Parts Assembly 102 – Inspection
Advances in sensor technology and machine vision capabilities are making automated inspection a strategic, cost-effective solution. The benefits of properly implemented inspection automation include time savings, consistency, increased quality, and reduced labor requirements. With data collection and analysis built into the system, defect prevention and process improvements can also be achieved. When incorporating inspection into an automated assembly process, there are many important factors to consider.