The New World of Automation Metrics
By Gary Forger
By now, you’ve figured out that automation is a good idea for your operation. You know how it fits into the corporate strategy. You’ve clearly demonstrated to the C-suite that the investment will pay for itself and deliver dividends over time. Actually collecting those dividends requires you to pay attention to the metrics used to measure the performance of your automation equipment. Some of the favorites are picking accuracy, throughput, order turnaround time, labor savings and space utilization. In all likelihood, these and other metrics were part of your justification for the people upstairs.
But if those are the only metrics tracked, you’re cheating yourself. Big time.
Things have changed recently
Automated equipment is no longer just equipment that minimizes labor and speeds item processing. Automated equipment is now a serious data source about your operations that opens the door to a whole new world of metrics. That’s a significant shift that you need to get a handle on. Otherwise, automation at your facility will always underperform regardless of how many traditional metric targets it meets or exceeds.
“Central to the new data flow in automated systems are sensors, software and integrated interfaces with warehouse management systems and the like,” explains Monty McVaugh, Software Engineering Project Manager at OPEX.
In fact, these additional capabilities are now standard equipment on the automation supplier’s Perfect Pick and Sure Sort machines, he adds. “Everything this equipment does is tracked as an event and the information saved for analysis later,” says McVaugh. “Event information is the basis for building the performance profile needed to track all metrics. And we’re down to the level of tracking distance traveled by our iBOTs as well as handling transitions and their efficiencies. This is a whole lot more than tracking simple uptime,” McVaugh adds. He goes on to explain that having these, and other, new metrics for automation make it possible to find multiple ways to solve process problems. “The picture and metric possibilities just got much bigger. And that bodes well for improving performance in ways not previously enjoyed,” says McVaugh.
One example of that is predictive maintenance
Traditional preventive maintenance calls for replacing a part on December 15, for instance. The timing is based on a likelihood that the part requires replacement, not that it actually does. Call it an educated guess. Predictive maintenance relies on the data collected by sensors to determine precisely when and where maintenance is required. Precisely knowing rather than guessing significantly reduces downtime and improves overall performance metrics.
“Predictive maintenance opens the door to new possibilities,” explains Dave Beres, Director of Support Services at OPEX.
“It is a powerful practice that requires the collection of the right data and the proper management of it to improve the performance of automation equipment,” Beres adds. Welcome to the new world of automation metrics. And keep in mind, these metrics don’t replace traditional performance measures. They add to them. Considerably. Suddenly, the old adage “if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it” takes on new meaning that matters.
Next up is a close up look at the Perfect Pick and Sure Sort automation solutions and where they can fit into your operations.
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Gary Forger is the former editor of Modern Materials Handling magazine and the Material Handling & Logistics U.S. Roadmap to 2030.