Equipment & Technology

Busting automation myths

Braden Goddin, Sales and Marketing Manager at Aurora Process Solutions tells ABHR some of the common misconceptions about automation and robotics for smaller bulk handlers.

When it comes to new technologies, early adopters will often face higher risks, as bugs, glitches and inexperience can disrupt the previous way of doing things.

These risks are not without rewards. In 1947, Ford started up its first automation department. Now, the technology is commonplace in the automotive industry, driving productivity to new heights.

Goddin says that while robotics may sound futuristic, the first movers are already well-established automators.

“Larger corporations and industrial manufacturers had the privileged position to take on more risk with robotic technology and now they are reaping the benefits,” he says.

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“However, because these larger companies have been the main adopters of automation, there is a misconception that robotics are only for massive multinationals. That’s no longer the case.”

Aurora Process Solutions specialises in providing robotic equipment for small-to-medium bulk product manufacturers, particularly in rural areas. Its range of robots can semi- or fully automate the packaging, conveying, conditioning, palletising and wrapping processes.

The New-Zealand based company’s targets first time automators, working with them to bring operations into the 21st century.

Goddin says one major misconception around installing automated bulk equipment is the difficulty.

“We talk to a lot of small to medium businesses, and often need to drill into what is causing any underlying anxieties or what misinformation they may have heard,” he says.

“Some believe that automation is overkill, but others may not be comfortable with new technology – in a lot of cases if a person doesn’t understand the office suite on their computer, they think a robot would be even more complex.”

To help smaller businesses get started, Aurora works closely with them to get a feel for what the process will look like. According to Goddin, there are plenty of case studies that were going through similar discussions a few years ago.

Aurora can show new automators around equivalent-sized facilities and helps them connect with business owners and staff to see what it’s like. Aurora’s team also makes sure to use plain, easy to understand language that is devoid of buzzwords and complicated terminologies.

Afterwards, the company will sit down with the client and its accountants to collect more information about the site, the production rates, number of manual labour units employed, amount of product rejection and cost of production to determine the return on investment (ROI).

In most cases, the ROI is around two to three years. Goddin says if the numbers don’t stack up, then at least Aurora has helped do its due diligence.

“We understand how a small to medium enterprise works and have spent countless hours observing and even getting involved with the packaging as well,” he says.

“It’s not uncommon for our engineers to do some of the bagging while at a site to better understand the process. It helps us find out what the requirements are for a client – you can’t just pull an automated system off a shelf and expect it to work.”

Human error is one of the factors that leads to costs in manual systems. Humans are complicated creatures – workers can get tired during a shift, could have an injury, or not be available to work during peak times.

Manual labour around machinery also brings with it health and safety risk. If people lose concentration, even for just a moment, it can spell disaster.

Goddin says that some tasks shouldn’t have a human involved at all.

“Moving pallets and bags is boring, repetitive and physically intense. It doesn’t make much sense to have a person those kinds of jobs, especially when they could be adding value to the process elsewhere,” he says.

“Logistics, for example, is a task that remains very much manual. Coordinating deliveries is even more important now, following major disruptions to global supply chains. Other roles that are better suited for humans are engineering roles, or roles that help optimise the use of machinery.

“These jobs often get minimal attention, and as a result, packaging lines don’t run as efficiently. With manual labour units freed up from the boring tasks, suddenly you can put more time and effort into improving your systems.”

Goddin says another hidden benefit to automation is reducing the workload of the business owner themselves. A surprising amount of time is often spent managing manual labour and the day-to-day business.

Clients that have adopted automated machinery often have more free time to focus on new ways of growing the business.

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

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