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Top 10 Things To Know About Custom Automation

Through the years, we’ve seen custom automation companies come and go, and here are some of the things that we have learned as an industry leader.

Anybody looking for custom automation should know the following ten things.

1. Custom automation can be a practical alternative to overseas labor

Custom automation of processes can decrease production-related labor costs by combining multiple steps into one compact machine, making it cost-effective to remain at home.

2. The cost of investment is high, but so is the return on investment

When planning custom automation for your processes, the inclination is to look at the significant components like robots or electrical control systems, add up their costs, and factor in some engineering hours.

But with that approach, companies may forget important items that provide safety and smooth transitions throughout the system. These items include light curtains, safety guarding, brackets, pneumatic valves, hoses, cables or rails to move the robot back and forth. These things make all the components work together.

Lead times on robots can be 16-18 weeks, and lead times on most other major items average around eight weeks. With the lead-time on components being so long, a custom automation project can take twice as long as you anticipate it.

3. Cheap and fast, or good and reliable

If you ask for a Mercedes but only put up funds for a Rambler, chances are what you end up with will soon break and rust away in a corner.

If you want a fast custom automation solution, you’ll end up rushing through design and assembly, thereby risking your chances of excluding critical measures, such as for safety or quality.

A good and reliable solution is like getting the Mercedes at a reasonable cost and in a timeframe that adequately allows for good design and a solid build. JR Automation is one of the largest and most experienced automation companies in the world. We help our customers integrate reliable and efficient automation solutions on time and within budget. 

4. Custom automation technologies are constantly changing

Just because you bought something five years ago and it works well, it doesn’t mean that it’s still the best technology on the market.

Think about how many updates and upgrades there are with the typical computer; there is always some upgrade or new version that makes it function better. The same holds for custom automation systems. Products are improving, and new technologies are constantly emerging.

5. It can be difficult for companies inexperienced in custom automation to articulate and visualize what they need

If you can’t articulate what you want, you don’t need it. Companies just starting down the custom automation path have some processes and capabilities that they know, but hundreds they don’t know. A good custom automation company can help suggest better options to make your process run smoothly.

6. Custom automation reveals flaws

Often, people are unaware of how much inconsistency there is in their processes and the quality of their parts until we start looking at custom automation. Inconsistency and automation don’t get along! For this reason, companies should tighten up procedures, tolerances, dimensions, accuracy and so on across the board. If not, the automated process won’t work, and you will hate the machine.

7. Some processes can’t be automated

You might think any part can be made with custom automation. Although we would love to automate every process, sometimes the cost of the machine versus the payback makes it unwise.

8. Your custom automation vendor can go out of business fast

We wish it weren’t so, but those are your chances and here’s why: Most custom automation companies are small businesses that design machines one at a time. When they finish a design, they pass on all the intellectual property to the customer along with the machine.

Not a problem until you consider the financials.

When purchasing custom automation machines, 60-65% of the price is for materials needed to build the machine. If the machine is not paid for until the end of the project, your small custom automation vendor ends up paying for the machine and its design until it is complete. This leaves them cash-strapped until the very end of the project, unable to take on new work, limited in developing current staff or hiring people with additional expertise, and so on.

This practice, along with a propensity to overload their risk by saying “Yes, we can do that…” to projects well beyond their specialty and experience, often puts these companies out of business.

Be prepared to put money down on a custom automation project. JR Automation was founded on a culture of principled project management and has thrived and helped our customers thrive over 30 years of custom automation work. 

9. Your company still needs employees

Automating processes does reduce your labor force, but does not eliminate it.

Custom automation with lean principles most often still requires someone who can run the machines, monitor the line, and stop production in case of errors and parts being processed incorrectly.

10. A total custom automation effort will require maintenance and spare parts to sustain reliability and a high uptime

All machines need to have routine preventative maintenance performed on them.

Machine parts will inevitably wear out, and therefore spare parts need to be maintained and ready for quick replacement to keep your lines up and running.

Also, sensors and vision systems on occasion need to be adjusted, tightened back into place and recalibrated to maintain the machine's reliability.


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JR Automation provides intelligent automated manufacturing and distribution technology solutions. We transform how the world's leading manufacturers make and distribute products.


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