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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:

Getting started

• Start to plan as early as possible, with automation experts involved in the early design stages.
• Use due diligence to find the right partner to contribute to the success of your project.

Work with a vendor that has
o experience in your industry, and the able to understand your processes
o vertical integration that includes both design and machine building
o no backlog; time to devote to your project

Reducing risk

• Know that risk mitigation is a critical issue for both the customer and the machine builder; the customer is making a large CapEx investment in equipment they must depend on for production, cost reduction, and quality improvement. The machine builder’s reputation is at stake, and they don’t want to be supporting a bad machine in the field for years.
• Define the project objective, including why the project is needed, and what a successful outcome looks like.
• Develop a detailed specification and statement of work. Involve the machine builders well before the design is frozen. The machine builders can impact part design, and will offer valuable input to create a cost-effective, efficient, reliable automation system.
• Consider prototyping for complex, high-risk automation tasks. This type of prototyping is a paid project that can reduce the cost of automation and improve overall efficiency for those tasks.
• Use good quality, in-tolerance parts consistently. Automation is like a quality control inspector. Parts that don’t meet the tolerances provided on the drawings used to build the machine can cause jams and other issues.
• Keep the project as simple as possible and don’t automate too much.
• Limit the number of RFQs you send out or bids you request. Use due diligence to narrow down your potential suppliers to three. It takes a lot of time and money to go through the process and it’s difficult to spend sufficient time with more than three potential suppliers in order to get quality proposals with sufficient detail. Take the time to tour a machine builder’s facility and talk to management.
• Build consensus and get buy-in from all parties involved including engineering, controls, operations, parts supply, and maintenance.

Company culture

• Prepare for resistance to change when implementing new automation; particularly on a first automation project.

Understand that it’s human nature to fear change – fear of job security, and fear of the unknown.
• Involve all affected parties early in the project to minimize fear.
• Keep everyone involved because it only takes one person in your plant to prevent the equipment from running properly.
• Respect the fact that people are needed to run the machines; do not underestimate the need to consider the culture at your organization and how receptive people will be to new automation.
• Communicate your supplier preferences so the machine builders can accommodate the programs you know and prefer as much as possible.

Developing specifications

• Spend time developing detailed specifications because they’re one of the most important elements of a successful project. The objective is to make sure that no bad parts leave your plant and get to your customers.
• Make sure your specifications include the following:
o a process or assembly sequence – what are the steps to put the product together, to test it? to weld it?
o annual volumes and cycle times
o hours per shift, shifts per day, days per week, weeks per year
o uptime requirements
o footprint constraints
• Provide the information your machine builder needs to verify that the equipment can meet your production needs.
• Describe how your manufacturing operations run so that the machine builder can calculate overall equipment effectiveness (OEE)
• Include detailed descriptions of all processes;
for example if the process is welding, specify
o the type: MIG, TIG, plasma, laser…
o wire content, diameter, feed rates
o cover gases
if the process is glue dispensing, specify
o the manufacturer of the glue
o dispense amounts, hold time, cure times, process


• Define quality control and test requirements, and include a copy of the quality document that governs machinery and equipment for your plant.
• Include a copy of the control engineering specifications you use. These specifications will include engineering drawing preferences, programming logic preferences, HMI layouts and colors, wire colors, safety circuits, etc.
• List delivery requirements for the equipment and for the proposal.
• Provide training requirements.
• Include runoff criteria for factory acceptance testing (FAT) and site acceptance testing (SAT).
• Take advantage of a machine builder’s ability to help you create a good specification as a paid project. If you’ve never created a specification like this before, it can be worth the cost; you’ll also have a template moving forward.

Avoid common mistakes

• Make a purchase decision based on more criteria than just price. Going with the lowest bidder is not necessarily the best solution.
o Create a scorecard to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of each custom engineered solution proposed by the vendors you selected after due diligence.
o Include the criteria that are important to you on your scorecard such as maintainability, service, and support, in addition to price.
o Weight the scorecard so that price is a factor, but isn’t 100% of the weight of the decision.
• Plan and budget for training. Training is critical, particularly for new technology. An integrator can help with training during acceptance testing, and can help you get in-depth training from equipment manufacturers.
• Get an integrator involved early. For robots, they can help you determine the right size – the reach, speed, payload, axes, etc. Integrators can also help design and build the end of arm tooling, programming, and safety guarding.
Navigating the Post-Automation Ramp Phase
• Understand that custom automation machines are not plug-in-and-go equipment.
• Schedule time after site acceptance testing to allow the machine to ramp up to operational effectiveness. The target OEE is typically not hit right away, and will take time.
• Allow time or plan to have an integrator assisting to speed up the learning curve to get a new machine up and running into full production.
Creating a Maintenance and Spare Parts Strategy
• Understand that any equipment with moving parts will require maintenance and will have parts that wear out and eventually need replacing.
• Have a parts budget and plan to stock critical parts.
• Include machine builders early in your design process so they can replace parts with a low mean time between failures with parts that last longer.
• Follow the maintenance and spare parts recommendations provided in the final machine documentation and the operator manual.
• Recognize that if a piece of equipment cannot go down, you will have to engineer redundancy into the system.
In addition to the topics covered above, more information was covered in the webinar about how to choose an integrator, ways to prevent delivery delays, and warranties.

The recording is available in the archived robotics online webinars at https://www.robotics.org/webinar-archives.

Are you in the market to purchase a custom automated assembly system or need to understand how robotics and automation can help you become more successful? Contact Ehrhardt Engineered Systems at 877-386-7856 or email us at sales@ehrhardtsolutions.com

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