Equipment & Technology

Aurora embraces Australia’s automation opportunity

Automation could be the key to soaring productivity, thriving businesses and rising incomes. ABHR sat down with Braden Goddin from Aurora Process Solutions to learn how the company is helping manufacturing and processing businesses unlock the benefits.

It’s a hot summer day in regional Australia. You work at a company that cleans and bags seeds, moving 20kg bags of product from the packaging line onto pallets. With no air-conditioning, the corrugated iron packing shed soon heats up under the blazing sun. 

By the end of the day, you’re exhausted and the next shift is not appealing.

Braden Goddin, sales and marketing manager at Aurora Process Solutions, said this is an all too common occurrence around the country.

“It’s a demanding job, it’s dull, it’s dirty and it’s dangerous,” he told ABHR. “It’s a job that ideally shouldn’t be done by a person. We’re seeing more and more people making this conclusion. It’s a credit to those operators who soldier on and get it done, but there is a better way.

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“The labour force increasingly doesn’t want to do these kinds of jobs, and the people currently employed in these positions are getting older.”

Goddin quoted McKinsey’s Australia’s automation opportunity report to further underline the point.

“Australia needs to boost productivity to rekindle the kind of economic growth that spreads income growth across the population, especially given its ageing population. Without a renaissance in productivity, the country risks a future of lower growth and reduced resources to invest,” he said. 

With such a tight job market, many workers are often undertaking several other roles in addition to backbreaking physical labour.

Aurora helps small-to-medium businesses in regional areas automate their operations with bag-filling, closing, conveying, palletising and wrapping/hooding equipment. In particular, the business works with industries dealing with heavy bags, such as the grain, stockfeed, fertiliser, landscape products, sand and cement industries.

Goddin said that when automation is implemented in a workplace, it allows workers to put more focus on executing the higher value parts of their roles.

“A manual operator who lifts bags onto a pallet can instead be upskilled to operate a forklift and move the pallets from the packaging line to trucks, for example,” he said.

“There’s always a degree of monitoring required with automation, as well. Operators can take ownership of a certain part of the process and be responsible for replenishing consumables like bags or pallet film.

“Quality checks are also important and remain a human role in a lot of industries. Instead of toiling away shifting bags, the operator can ensure every bag, pallet or shipment meets the quality requirements.”

One key advantage we see with small to medium business is that automation removes the need for management/owners to spend hours and weekends down on the packing floor. Rather, this time can be spent on growing the business. 

Automation of the packaging process can provide businesses significantly more control over output. While machinery can still have unexpected downtime, much of this can be mitigated through scheduled maintenance.

It also means that if staff members can’t make their shift due to illness or leave, productivity remains manageable.

Goddin said the one thing he repeatedly finds when discussing automation is how much easier it is than the customer expected.

“Many people see implementing automation as a complex and intensive process, but the industry has already worked to overcome this perception,” he said.

“For example, Fuji robotics has invested a lot of its resources to ensure its automated palletiser is a reliable workhorse and simple to use, perfect for Australian industry rural and city.”

Goddin said every business’ automation journey is different, which is why Aurora takes a flexible approach. For example, a business could partially automate its packaging process and then upgrade a module at a time as the business grows.

Aurora’s team works closely with its clients to provide detailed return on investment (ROI) calculations. 

In many situations, the benefits of automating a pallet-stacking or bag-filling process can be surprising. Less time, effort and money are needed for manual labour and its associated costs – such as recruitment, management, superannuation, leave and rework.

First-time automators can also visit other Aurora customers that have undergone a similar upgrade to ask question and learn about the process.

Goddin said people are more cautious about overextending now, which is another reason Aurora starts small and helps them through the journey.

“Business owners are pleasantly surprised with the relative ease of the implementation,” he said. “Operators on the factory floor are just as happy – their work is a lot more meaningful, and a lot less tiring.”

One of the concerns around automation that Aurora often hears is the idea that it requires significant in-house technical resources to manage. This may be the case with some highly complex, high speed process applications but is not the case for general filling, closing, palletising operations. 

“Product development has come a long way in regard to user experience and intuitive operation,” Goddin said.

“Ease of use and simplicity has developed to the point where many of the machines can be considered plug-and-play. In a lot of applications, if you can operate a smart phone, then you have the capability.”

Goddin said the technology is developing at a rapid pace, especially when it comes to the implementation of cobots – automated robots that work collaboratively alongside humans to perform tasks.

“The work being done for technology in the industrial environment is exciting to see,” he said. “There are several government grants available, as state and federal governments are looking to incentivise automation.

“Automation isn’t going away – it’s becoming more integral than ever. It’s a question of when, not if, which is why we’re encouraging companies to include automation in their business plans.” 

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