• Michael Asbury

Questions to Ask BEFORE Automating a Process

Project Prioritization & Properly Specified Automation Requirements are Critical

Time & Money are Finite

Considering that key project resources have limited bandwidth, and there is a limited amount of capital for making improvements, prioritizing the right projects is key in determining whether or not a company can reach its goals. Decision makers must choose the sequence of projects wisely.

Automating a process is one type of project that can help or hinder an operation. However, other projects may be much more important to the success of the organization, and may have a much better bottom line impact & return on investment!!!


Some common general assumptions are that an automated process will be faster, more efficient, and produce perfect quality. These assumptions can come to fruition if a great deal of care is taken on the front end.


Too often, automation project implementations cost more & take much longer than anticipated, don't produce the expected quality, have hidden (or unanticipated) life cycle costs, and ultimately don't produce the anticipated ROI.


Even worse, they can disrupt production, distract focus from core problems & key opportunities and actually create quality & constraint issues.


Questions to Ask Early in Automation Planning

There are definitely additional important questions, but this is a good start

  1. What are we trying to achieve? Quality, Throughput, Cost?...

  2. Which process should we be focusing on? Is this process improving a constraint or more of a "Pet Project"?

  3. What product mix flows through this process?

  4. How does the manual process work? (Inputs-Steps-Outputs-Requirements, Cycle Time, Handling, Tools, etc)

  5. What are the process steps for each of the product mix segments for the manual process?

  6. How long does each step take for the mix variations for the manual process?

  7. Are there any quality issues associated with any of the manual process steps?

  8. Are there any problems with the inputs of the manual process? Info/materials within spec & on-time

  9. What problem are we trying to solve with automation? Quality, Throughput, Cost, other?

  10. Can the problems be solved with the manual process? (Inputs within spec, inputs available on-time, mistake proofing, create/modify fixtures/jigs/templates, design for manufacturability, training, accountability, etc)

  11. At what rate does the process need to flow now and in the future? To no longer be a constraint?

  12. Is there reliable technology that can handle ALL of the process steps for ALL of the product mix?

  13. Are the information and material inputs for the process within acceptable spec range for automation? What is the risk of rework of the inputs in order to be used with the automation?

  14. What is the risk of rework from the automation?

  15. What is the downtime frequency and duration risk?

  16. How much maintenance is required?

  17. How difficult is it to modify programs for design changes, material changes, efficiency or quality?

  18. How long does programming take and can it be done offline?

  19. How difficult and time consuming is it to reduce cycle time in the future? Will the new automation become the constraint of the future?

  20. How many operators does it take to operate the manual process versus the automated process?

  21. How much training is required for operators to run the automated process successfully?

  22. Will additional roles need to be added for programming and/or maintenance?

  23. How much space will the automated process be allowed to take?

  24. How will the automated process be loaded & unloaded?

  25. How disruptive will the installation be to production?

  26. Will the existing layout need to be modified, such as moving other stations, changing the flow, etc?

  27. Will infrastructure need to be changed for the new process? Cranes, conveyors, fork lifts, power, etc.

  28. How difficult is it to move the automation if there is a layout change? Is it a new monument?

  29. How much capital and key improvement resource bandwidth would this project consume versus other potential projects relative to the bottom-line impact?

  30. Should we focus on automating this process versus implementing (multiple) other potential projects?

If you've ever been involved with automation projects, I'm sure there are many additional questions you would add to this list. I would love to hear your feedback and gain additional insight!

I've recently worked on a couple of automation projects. With some key improvements we were able to ramp up a poorly performing robotic work cell...

  • Doubling the daily output with the same scheduled work hours (with Less Overtime)

  • With 25% Fewer Operators (Relocated 1 Operator)

  • 40% More Value Add Processing at Cell (Reducing Secondary Operations)

  • Less Material used per unit by applying Design for Manufacturability

We use a systematic approach to gain insight & understanding into organizations in order to make rapid improvements where it will have the most impact.


Our methodology is a combination of Lean Six Sigma & Theory of Constraints called TLS. TLS is like combining a grand slam and a slam dunk to create a new power move... The Grand Slam Dunk!


You can think of us as strategic problem solvers. 

We really enjoy developing and executing strategic rapid improvement plans for organizations. It is great to see bottom line results come to fruition! 


Schedule an initial consultation to find out how to utilize TLS for Rapid Improvement in your organization!



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