With so many automation components available and seemingly simple, it can be tempting to skip working with an integrator and launch into the project on your own.
Considering a “Do it Yourself” automation project? With so many automation components available and seemingly simple, it can be tempting to skip working with an integrator and launch into the project on your own. For some, this is a solid, viable option. For others, less so. Before committing to doing a project yourself, here are a few things we recommend you consider.
Design: An automated system is almost always more than the sum of its parts and needs to be crafted holistically with a variety of key performance attributes in mind. In considering the prospects of designing a system on your own, we suggest you ask yourself the following questions: Do you have the expertise to put it together? Have you compared your application workflow with the system design? Do you have the appropriate facility requirements for your project? How will you ensure that the system will meet the appropriate safety requirements and regulations? Does it meet industrial standards? Will the components fit together in the space required? Can the robots reach everywhere they need to go? Do you have experience with the application you are trying to automate?
Software: The system’s scheduling software is the mastermind that will control and schedule your processes. It is the element that ultimately will make or break the success of your project, as without high functioning brains, the brawn in your system will not make a difference. Will you use a market available software package? What are your evaluation criteria for the software? Do you plan to build the software in-house? Will you integrate your software to a laboratory information management system (LIMS)?
Build: Assuming you have confidence in your ability to design and control your system, the next important series of questions surrounds being able to put them together. Do you have the vendors or expertise to find vendors to procure the material to build your system? Do you have technicians on staff with expertise to build the system? How will you be able to optimize the robot moves and system schedule? Ordering many parts and managing them in your inventory is more complicated and costly than just ordering a single part number from an experienced automation partner.
Support: Once the system is built, commissioned, and running production issues are nearly inevitable. There may be problems with the robots or third-party instruments that you will be required to support. Do you have resources that have expertise with using these components, and relationships with the suppliers to resolve technical issues quickly? Have you considered preparing a parts depot for the system and components? Parts on systems may require regular preventative maintenance and managing the spare parts and multiple vendors to ensure this work gets done to keep your system running smoothly is essential.
DIY automation projects are almost always more complicated than they appear at first. While they are appropriate for some, more often than not they end up costing more than you think and end up with lasting effects that can be hard to anticipate. If automation is not a core competency of your organization, you may want to pause before launching into a DIY project to make sure that what you think will happen, is in fact what does happen!