Thursday 3rd Dec, 2020

Aurora advances Australian automation

COVID-19 has caused major disruption in the processing industry, requiring businesses rethink how they handle production lines. ABHR speaks to Braden Goddin from Aurora Process Solutions to learn how automation can create a safer and more resilient workplace.

COVID-19 has caused major disruption in the processing industry, requiring businesses rethink how they handle production lines. ABHR speaks to Braden Goddin from Aurora Process Solutions to learn how automation can create a safer and more resilient workplace.

The Industrial Revolution saw the power of steam and mechanical production spread throughout factories around the world.

This wave of technological advancement has continued through the centuries to today and shows no signs of stopping. Implementing these advancements across the industry is often challenged by people’s apprehension to change and the unknown.

The concerns from Industry 1.0 can still be found today as sectors begin embracing Industry 4.0. However, Braden Goddin, Sales and Marketing Manager for Aurora Process Solutions says advances in communication and transport have provided a means to overcome these concerns, paving the way for small to medium businesses to take advantage of cutting-edge technology with confidence.

Aurora Process Solutions provides end-to-end services for manufacturers of bulk products, including grain, seed, flour, cement, stockfeed and more. The company’s semi and fully automated machinery automates the packaging, conveying, conditioning and palletising of commodities.

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Based in New Zealand with operations in Newcastle, New South Wales, and distribution centres in Melbourne and Sydney, the company provides on-site consultation, project management, installation and servicing across the Oceanic region.

Goddin says the development of automation has advanced at a rapid pace but many businesses in Australia and New Zealand are late adopters compared to Europe.

“We have a network of contacts across the processing world – it’s fascinating to hear from them about automation of specific repetitive tasks being standard procedure in their countries. It highlights the fact we have some catching up to do down here in the antipodes if we want to stay relevant and competitive in today’s global marketplace. The good news is that we have the right temperament for it here, we’re are an open-minded people, practical and used to innovation.

“In a lot of areas, we see jobs that humans just shouldn’t be doing at all,” he adds. “Things like moving 25-kilogram packaging around a factory all day or presenting empty bags onto a filling head.

“These jobs aren’t taking advantage of the remarkable capacity of humans, they’re mundane tasks that can be physically gruelling and potentially dangerous. We are here to help businesses intelligently automate to get the most out of their valued team members and improve their working conditions”

Braden works with a specialist team of industrial packaging engineers, advising on and providing small and medium enterprises (SME) with the technology required to automate their operations. He explains there are often a few misconceptions when it comes to the technology.

One of the main barriers is the idea that industrial automation requires significant in-house technical resources to manage.

“That’s simply not the case,” Goddin says. “Product development has come a long way in regard to user experience and intuitive operation. Ease of use and simplicity has developed to the point where many of the machines can be considered plug and play. If you can operate a smart phone, then you have the capability”

To help alleviate this concern, Aurora Process Solutions has developed an augmented reality (AR) service and operation support system. The technology is based on similar military technology designed to help soldiers repair equipment or assemble hardware on deployment in remote locations. According to Braden, immediate remote support is critical for the many regional and rural businesses that can’t wait the two days for someone from Melbourne or Sydney to arrive.

COVID-19 and the disruptions it caused forced the company to develop the AR program even faster and has allowed the company to provide close support to businesses during lockdown.

Goddin says the virus has also highlighted the importance of business continuity planning to business owners, adding that automation is a sure-fire way to de-risk operations.

“COVID-19 caused a lot of chaos for plenty of businesses. Some staff couldn’t come to work, and production lines needed to accommodate new social distancing guidelines. In a lot of cases, you can’t just move machines around to do that, which saw reduced production efficiency,” he says.

“Demand also grew during this time as people rushed out to the store to buy essentials like flour and salt, which was frustrating to many manufacturers as their production was constrained.”

Automation can provide a versatile and flexible process which can accommodate dramatic shifts in demand and operating conditions.

The other main misconception about automation is its cost. According to Goddin, many smaller businesses believe only the multinationals can afford robotics and automation. This is why Aurora works closely with these companies on detailed return on investment (ROI) calculations.

Goddin says the ROI exercise is well worth the time, especially as there are some government initiatives that greatly help SME’s invest in capital equipment as COVID impacts the market, including the ability to write off the full value of assets immediately.

In many cases, the benefits of automating pallet stacking or bag filling and closing can be surprising. Less is invested in manual labour and associated costs like recruitment, management, superannuation, leave, and the cost of rework.

However, Goddin says automation should not be about replacing humans, it’s about freeing them from mundane, repetitive and physically intense jobs and putting them in fulfilling positions that add more value.

“Ultimately, we want to automate the inhuman, and provide businesses the means to both de-risk their operations and increase their competitiveness in domestic & international markets.”