August 4, 2014
Volume I, Issue 1

No Risk Automation
Asking the Right Questions

Representing an automated guided vehicle (AGV) vendor is often a conflict of interest.  The end-user customer's interests may not align with the AGV vendor's interests. The only way to avoid these conflicts is a vendor agnostic approach to automation. As a sales manager for several AGV companies there was an intention: sell AGVs.  Performance was measured by number of vehicles sold per month, per quarter, per year, year over year, and at a measured profitability.  It took courage to say to the customer and to C-level AGV management, "Sorry this isn't the right product for you."


Rather than entering an automation conversation with a pre-designated solution, there are steps to clearly recognize the best-practices, the leanest solutions, the most rapid return-on-investment (ROI), while avoiding the landmines and confusing games played by many AGV salespeople.

Application Study and Analysis

Industrial journalist, Thomas R. Cutler, reported in a recent issue of Business Excellence magazine, "A comprehensive vendor agnostic study of potential automation applications is essential.  Some automation projects are simply a waste of time, a poor project concept, or ignore applications that may have immediate positive return on investment.  AGV vendor sales pitches essentially suggests to a prospective customer that a prescribed AGV solution is best.  Perhaps it is; often it is not.  Performing a detailed application study and analysis may be sufficient to avoid the substantial financial hemorrhaging from poor automation technology solutions."

Specification Development 

Much more than a simple checklist, automation specification development must maximize business performance through the application of automatic process controls, and the mining and presentation of operational information.  Informed business decisions about automation must operate with a safety first perspective, remain in regulatory compliance, and extract the maximum profit from manufacturing assets. Strategic automation starts with a clear evaluation of what is working and what is broken in the current state of the operation.  Performance improvement opportunities related to better process control and management of operational information occurs through insight; working closely with staff to conduct a feasibility study that documents and articulates the solution, estimated cost, expected benefit, and anticipated schedule is beneficial.

Vendor Selection

Without the need or incentive for advocating a particular automation AGV supplier, a comprehensive and objective viable pool of vendors can establish a fair, unbiased selection process.  Instead of "making a solution fit the automation demand" the opposite paradigm is developed.  Vendor selection is expressly guided by the metrics, deliverables, cost-constraints, and objectives of the customer.   The goal is to both exclude  vendors lacking the specific project automation expertise and include the best vendors with proven knowledge and experience delivering targeted automation solutions. 


Industry thought leaders suggest that vendor selection is only possible with decades of knowledge about the players in AGV automation.  Knowing the successes and failures, the strengths and limitations of each vendor is a shortcut to avoiding an expensive and ineffective automation decision.  Vendor selection may be another opportunity to internally handle the implementation, staff permitting.  Too often internal staff may lack the objectivity needed for the company, wanting to use technologies and automation with which they are familiar.

Project Manage

Once the automation system is purchased, the next risk danger is a poorly implemented solution.  If there are sufficiently experienced automation experts employed by the customer, this project management need not be sourced to a third party firm.  Often there is a champion of automation, perhaps an operations director, or materials handling vice-president.  The daily operational demands and copious responsibilities on that experienced management team member can detract from a correct, efficient, and cost-contained implementation.

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