I saw a commercial for the new Apple iPad . In it they said “You already know how to use it”. That really resonated with me. That’s the way great automation systems are – the operators already know how to use them.
What makes them simple to use? I may be getting pretty nitty gritty here, but it’s the way they are programmed. Most people tend to think, and therefore program, based on a series of steps or sequences. The problem is, when a robot gets to step 78 of a 123 step process and something out of the ordinary happens, it doesn’t know what to do next. Think of how frustrating it is for you when your Windows computer locks up. That’s the same feeling an operator gets on a daily basis with a glitchy automation system that runs on step or sequence based logic. This ties into people’s perceptions, beliefs and acceptance of the equipment in your plant.
Great automation systems don’t follow a series of steps, they are programmed with rules or priorities. These priorities allow the robot(s) to make decisions about what is the most important thing to do based on the state of the equipment within the cell. This means it handles the the what-if situations that inevitably come up with ease. This makes it simple and intuitive for an operator to:
- Recover after an E-Stop is pressed
- Recover after a power outage in the plant
- Recover when parts are out of sequence
- Recover when the process is stopped and parts removed
- Start up after a changeover
- Start up on a Monday morning
Not only does it handle these fault scenarios better, but it also runs better and makes more widgets. Because the system has an understanding of the priorities, it can continually adapt its cycle to optimize the process to keep the highest priority equipment running at the highest capacity possible.
Every integrator is going to tell you that their systems are easy to operate, but how do you really know? Ask them to talk you through the recovery procedures for the fault scenarios I’ve listed above. Or ask to see their operator manuals and review these procedures. Ask their references how they recover from these situations. It shouldn’t take an operator more than 1 or 2 steps to get the system running after one of these occur. If they have a 12-step procedure to recover – it’s too complicated.
“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction” – Einstein