One of the keys to success in any business endeavor is to avoid the pitfalls experienced by other companies that have traveled down the same road before you. Here are 12 important things to consider when pondering the make or buy decision.

One of the keys to success in any business endeavor is to avoid the pitfalls experienced by other companies that have traveled down the same road before you. Whirlaway Corp. has conducted automated assembly projects for more than 35 years with leading manufacturers. We’ve learned some important lessons along the way, including the following tips:

  • Control system design is critical. Make sure you consider things such as standardizing assembly equipment with other devices in your plant, such as machine tools. Common language, symbols, graphics and menus will ensure operator proficiency. It will also simplify data capture for real time pareto analysis of component defects, station malfunctions and run time efficiency.
  • Personnel expenses, such as salaries and benefits, are often the most significant cost associated with automated assembly system development, implementation and maintenance.
  • For every company, there is a volume threshold beyond which it is not economical to design and build an automated assembly and test system in-house, because the time and risk factors outweigh any economic benefit that would be realized.
  • When designing your equipment, always leave some blank stations in the system to accommodate process or product changes without having to completely tear down and rebuild the equipment from scratch.
  • Look for opportunities to outsource assemblies rather than individual components.
  • Make sure you do a total cost of ownership analysis on each purchasing option to ensure that you don’t fall into the trap of going with the lowest bidder and then finding out that you actually spent 50 percent more than you planned because of unseen or unexpected additional costs. Too often, the short-term “cheap” solution ends up costing more in the long run.
  • Make it easy to replace individual parts of the system by using interchangeable components, reducing both the cost of the parts and the time it takes to replace them. This simple practice can reduce the cost of repairing or upgrading an automated assembly system by as much as 75 percent.
  • Make the system as robust as possible. A system that is not robust enough to handle the application leads to waste, poor performance, lost productivity and lost revenue from missed market opportunities. On the other hand, a system built too large for the application it serves will waste money and space.
  • Streamline the purchasing process. When possible, consolidate all part numbers from the same vendor on a single purchase order. This results in savings in the number of purchase orders and line items both upfront and throughout the approval and procurement process. At an estimated cost of $100 processing cost per purchase order, the savings could be appreciable when you consider that an automated assembly system might entail hundreds of individual components.
  • Don’t forget to plan for maintenance costs. These expenses can add thousands of dollars to the total cost of an automated assembly system. They are often underestimated by equipment designers and purchasing professionals.
  • A poorly designed and implemented assembly system costs hours of rework, redesign and unexpected maintenance.
  • Keep it simple. Whenever possible, use components and technologies that your manufacturing engineers are already familiar with.