There are 5 key shortcomings among Chinese factories that hold back smart manufacturing and automation. These shortcomings all have the same origin: A wrong mentality for automation.
Earlier this year, Renaud Anjoran wrote a blog about “Why Solid Manufacturing Automation Strategies are so rare in China.” In summary, Mr. Anjoran laid out the below shortcomings that you will often see at Chinese factories:
A reactive approach than proactive
Shortage of skilled labour
Inadequate Investment in Training
“Do Now, Fix Later” mentality
Inability to Implement 5S
Automation is often seen as a machine-centric solution to increase productivity and reduce costs. Just buy the right machine and hope for instant productivity improvement. That is incorrect.
Machinery is a tool of automation, but it is not what makes automation successful. American General George S. Patton once said that “Wars are fought with weapons, but they are won by men”. Similarly, automation is achieved with the aid of machinery but will fail without the right people and the right mentality behind the effort.
The first shortcoming is the most critical in understanding the failure to implement automation. Automation/Smart Manufacturing is required in every aspect of production - from purchasing, machine operation, to warehousing.
It is changing the question from “how do we meet production” to “how can we most effectively plan for production.”
Once this proactive mentality is adapted from within, a company can purchase automation machinery. Factories that produce a lot of waste and purchase automation machinery tend to only automate their waste.
Ways To Be Proactive:
Being More Data-Driven
Companies need to gather data on their operations to be proactive. Knowing how much of each production run needs to be manufacturing allows the factory to forecast its production. Clear sales figures are an excellent start but tracking a product from the raw material until it leaves the factory warehouse is better.
Armed with data, a company can plan its purchases more effectively and minimize warehouse space and downtime.
Building a strong planning department will streamline the factory operations and incorporate a sense of leadership, leading to take more proactive decisions.
The next step is building and consistently utilising preventive maintenance for all existing machinery. If a factory does not properly maintain its more manually operated machinery, it will not be able to effectively use more advance automation machinery. As Mr. Anjoran wrote:
Automated machines have many points of failure and the factories don't have the means to effectively prevent or fix them. The breakdowns are often long and far more costlier than manually-operated machinery.
You may wonder - that seems simple! Why don’t Chinese factories do that now? Again, it boils down to an issue with the mentality. Many factory owners and managers we have spoken with, do not want to spend money on anything that does not immediately put money in their pockets. Machine maintenance and starting a planning department do not produce immediate results.
However, 30 minutes of maintenance can save thousands of dollars in parts and tens if not hundreds of thousands in lost productivity. Owners that are not willing to invest in activities that do not produce immediate results are not ready for automation.
Proactively showcasing the results of small changes like machine maintenance, planning and training can go a long way in changing this mentality.
We find that companies that change their mentality from reactive to proactive whilst embracing long-term improvements are much better equipped to successfully automate their processes.
Mindset is more important than machines to achieve successful automation.
Working with Chinese manufacturers to go from reactive to proactive thinking and short-term to long-term investments are essential to progress in automation & smart manufacturing.
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