If you’re a fenestration manufacturer, there’s a good chance you’ve thought about adding automation to your production in some form or another. Many of you have probably already done so, perhaps all the way up to and including a fully automated, high-speed IG line.
It’s also possible that the year we’ve had has shifted your perspective on the right time to invest in such equipment. An initial economic dip at the start of the pandemic had many organizations—in all industries—seeking ways to control costs. But some months later, we’ve seen increases in demand, and manufacturers have been challenged to keep up. Meanwhile, the labor shortage remains a big factor here, and has only been sharpened by the pandemic in many instances.
For these reasons, depending on your business outlook, now might be exactly the right time to pull the trigger on an investment in automation—helping you operate more efficiently and create more consistent, quality products at higher volumes for your customers.
Getting ready for new equipment installation takes preparation, and perhaps most importantly, it requires getting your shop floor workers on board and ready for the benefits automation can help them achieve. Here are a few things to think about to best prepare your entire workforce for what to expect:
Everyone has a role to play. Automation often has wide-ranging ramifications across your plant floor—and that means everyone who is a part of your production process will be impacted. This includes your inventory teams all the way through the folks loading the trucks with your products on their way to customers.
For this reason, early engagement with everyone—before your equipment arrives—is key to a successful implementation. Work collaboratively with your teams to solve some challenges before they happen, like avoiding bottlenecking that can result from higher-volume production capabilities. There are a few ways to get ahead of this:
- Ensure your glass-cutting station has enough capacity to keep up with production.
- Get ahead of inventory concerns by sourcing the right amount of raw materials, working with your vendors as necessary.
- Make room on your plant floor to keep units moving away from the line once they’ve been completed.
- Shore up your shipping operations to get finished units out the door efficiently.
Doing all of these things will involve collaboration with all of your plant floor teams—involve them early, and you’ll be ready to roll once your new equipment is online and ready for production.
Get ahead of expectations. The implementation of automation may lead some shop floor employees to wonder whether their job is safe. That means managers have the critical task of getting ahead of negative expectations. Proper planning for automation implementation involves reassuring your teams that bringing in automated equipment will truly be beneficial for everyone throughout the organization. Because automation isn’t about eliminating labor—it’s about making sure that everyone is in the best place to succeed.
For example, make it clear that automated equipment will make it easier for your employees to do high-quality work. It can also be beneficial to communicate that, when implemented properly, an investment in automation puts your company in a better position to operate cost-effectively for the long run. Teams will feel reassured, and oftentimes more engaged, when they believe in the long-term health of your organization.
Don’t forget about maintenance. The ongoing needs of your new equipment will be highly important once in operation. Maintenance best practices can help ensure your equipment is running at maximum efficiency at all times.
When planning for installation, don’t wait until your first planned maintenance event to train your teams on the required maintenance activities for new equipment. Get ahead by developing processes and schedules, and familiarize your teams with the upcoming changes before your new equipment is on the plant floor. It can be worth engaging with some of your suppliers who have experience with automated equipment—your spacer system vendors for a new high-speed line, for instance—to get started here.
Maximizing your opportunity with automated equipment depends on having a solid plan and building a foundation for success. Working with your teams and preparing everyone in your organization for what’s to come are a critical part of the process.