While companies may think automation is too cost-prohibitive or complicated, Martin Buena-Franco, automation products manager at The Raymond Corporation, says that is not the case. Here he dispels these myths and others and explains how automation could benefit your manufacturing process.

Quality: So it's such a big topic, but what trends have you noticed with automation in quality?

Buena-Franco: Yeah, absolutely. So some of the trends we're seeing is, you know, greater use of robotics, to handle materials, you know, different areas of the floor, such as you know, pick and pack. So, more autonomous vehicles performing repetitive tasks. Another trend is the implementation of advanced WMS systems or warehouse management systems. Some of these systems use machine learning and artificial intelligence in order to optimize inventory order processing and labor management systems integration, so you can also more efficiently utilize labor in the facility. I think there's also an increased focus on sustainability, you know, try to reduce carbon footprint. So, those are the main ones.

Quality: So for manufacturers who are looking to address some automation challenges, what advice would you give them or suggest that they do?

Buena-Franco: That's a good question. So having just stepped back, and, you know, some of the biggest challenges with implementing automation or, you know, taking on the task for automating manual processes within, you know, whether it's manufacturing or material handling in the warehouse, is, you know, essentially, just the ability to prescribe to size the right, automation solution. So number one is identify the KPIs, you know, what it is that they're trying to solve? What is the problem at hand, right? A lot of times it is best to partner with a supplier of the technology that can do the right assessment and prescribe the right automation solution. Logistics is the pressure that our customers get is just labor. The challenges with that, of course, is upskilling. Creating development opportunities for the employees to help them acquire all the necessary skills to work alongside the automated systems. 

So, the end goal, of course, is to create a more of a continuous learning adaptation type of a workforce, one that came up with that. So that they can evolve, you know, and adjust, basically, you know, with the times. So, try to stay, you know, updated with the latest advancements exploring new automation solutions, integrating some of this new technologies that will help enhance productivity efficiency. But, again, I think one of the other big challenge we hear a lot about is, you know, when our customers or you know, they automate a manual process is a bit of a change management effort, as well, because the process is going to change and, and so, you have to create a culture of collaboration. 

So, you would involve employees in the automation in the implementation effort, you know, you want them to have a sense of ownership, reduce resistance, and that is a natural thing. Of course, you know, when employees hear about automation efforts, you know, of course, they fear they think of job losses right away. And it's natural. When in reality, automation many times improves or creates opportunities for the workforce. So how do we leverage, you know, the knowledge that people have, take him away from a repetitive task and place him in areas where they can add more value. So, it's a change management, education, communication, you know, ahead, get ahead before the automation gets put in place. Just be clear about the goals and the intended outcomes of the automation initiatives right. So, as to alleviate the fears and misconceptions. So, I think that's one of the biggest challenges.

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