How to get an automation project approved

Build a case to get an automation and controls project approved. Here’s how to gain approval for automation project capital expenditures. Such investments can reduce inventory, obsolescence, and expense; improve throughput, information visibility, and regulatory compliance; create faster return on investments (ROI); and enable world-class manufacturing, said Tom Braydich, Matrix Technologies, formerly with Campbell Soup, at the 2015 CSIA Executive Conference. See a 15-point ROI checklist.

By Mark T. Hoske May 1, 2015

Gain approvals for an automation project by building a case for the capital expenditures and return on investment, according to Thomas Braydich, senior manufacturing operations management consultant, Matrix Technologies, a system integrator based in Maumee, Ohio. Previously Tom Braydich had automation responsibilities for Campbell Soup. Braydich made his comments on April 30 at the 2015 CSIA Executive Conference, in Arlington, Va. 

Automation ROI checklist

To build a case for spending on automation, Braydich said, list and quantify potential benefits, including in these 15 areas:

1. Inventory reductions

2. Decreased obsolescence

3. Scrap reductions

4. Greater throughput

5. Less expense

6. Long-term continuous improvement benefits

7. Faster returns on investment (ROI)

8. Information visibility, such as knowing the plant’s capabilities, with visibility up and down manufacturing process

9. Process agility with faster reactions to changes in customer plans

10. Material velocity

11. Common platforms

12. Better support for government regulations and digital records for lot tracking, hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP), and U.S. 21 CFR Part 11

13. Program alignment of manufacturing execution systems (MES) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems to enable world-class manufacturing

14. Less paper

15. More real-time information retrieval as needed. 

Automation savings examples

Shifting from paper to digital record keeping has huge potential savings. In one year, Braydich said, one plant generated more than 1 million pieces of paper. Hours can be wasted with retrieval and data analysis for regulatory compliance and process improvements. Real-time information retrieval also improves manufacturing productivity by giving decision makers a better understanding of capabilities, such as which line can produce which products most efficiently and when.

Also, Braydich noted, regulatory compliance can be scary, especially if a regulator walks in unannounced, demanding to see records, when the usual compliance person is unavailable.

Maximum ROI for an automation project at Campbell Soup was about 4 years, although infrastructure projects could be longer, he said. Investments should be viewed as opportunities to support strategic growth.

Automation savings, types

Braydich said savings for automation investments include:

  • Delivery performance improvements of 16% to 18%
  • Inventory reduction of 25% to 60%
  • Productivity gains of 10% to 16%
  • Indirect labor cost reductions of 25% to 50%.

Types of automation projects might include statistical process control (SPC) and workflow solutions to augment safety, quality, and regulatory compliance.

MES software can be used to collect and parse data for ERP, since ERP systems generally don’t like minutia, Braydich said. Better input allows better management of operational data, providing visibility in real time.

Linking systems

Linking disparate systems can help. MES can be blind to what it’s connecting. Mobility capabilities can get information where it needs to be to help improve product yield, increase throughput, reduce manual data collection, and deliver real-time key performance indicators.

If a golden batch was delivered yesterday with 92% efficiency, and today wasn’t even close, can those involved see why, and make adjustment, as it is happening? Software systems are available to help with alerts, allowing operators and others to be proactive, correlating production data to be smarter. Modern software helps with conformance and schedule-to-order needs, improving overall asset effectiveness (OEE).

Availability improves because more is known about equipment, including predictive and adaptive maintenance capabilities. 

Services from SIs

Rather than a large capital investment, some system integrators (SIs) may be willing to offer some of these capabilities as a service. Purchasing software, versus software as a service (SaaS) depends on many dynamic factors, company philosophy, support structure, and technical strengths of IT and engineering.

Who owns the application? Operations, IT, or…?

Does an organizational chart exist to clarify assets and processes? What are the mission critical applications and geographical locations involved? 

Advice on controls investments

Audience questions revealed some additional advice from Braydich for quantifying automation investments.

1. Savings on operational expenditures (opex) often occur after capital expenditures (capex) are made.

2. Using system integrators to help quantify a project from the beginning may be more cost effective than a do-it-yourself effort.

3. Plant level plant personnel often are starving for analytics. Without plant-floor experience, board-level personnel may not understand this and may fault the floor supervisor for lack of information.

4. Doing a pilot can help, since other groups in other areas or plants may see the benefits and want to participate.

5. Find a mentor. Campbell Soup had a formal mentoring program, which can help fill in the blanks.

Matrix Technologies is CSIA Certified and a Control Engineering System Integrator of the Year winner in 2008 and 2012. CSIA stands for Control System Integrators Association.

– Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering,

Key concepts

  • It can be easier to gain approvals for automation investments with quantification of benefits.
  • System integrators can help with that, and may offer software as a service.
  • Pilot projects can help by proving benefits and building excitement for new automation investments.

Consider this

What potential benefits are being overlooked just because current systems still work?

ONLINE extra 

See advice from other Control Engineering and Plant Engineering ROI articles.

See other Braydich advice about system integration projects, linked below. 

Author Bio: Mark Hoske has been Control Engineering editor/content manager since 1994 and in a leadership role since 1999, covering all major areas: control systems, networking and information systems, control equipment and energy, and system integration, everything that comprises or facilitates the control loop. He has been writing about technology since 1987, writing professionally since 1982, and has a Bachelor of Science in Journalism degree from UW-Madison.