How has automation impacted the water industry & how can you optimize your operational practices?
Automation changed the trajectory of history in more ways than one. It revolutionized industries when it met technology. It introduced efficiency and value that was at one time unknown. When the automobile made its debut in society, it was more than just an invention with wheels. It became symbolic of what could be. Today, automation is behind so much of the human life that it may be difficult to think of a world without it. Industries rely on automation as heavily as they do because in this day and age, the alternative would be far more costly. The water industry itself without automation could be subject to data inaccuracies, frequent delays, and possible faulty processes because manual work would be the only means for completion. Automation naturally improves operational efficiency wherever it is introduced. The following five points are specific ways automation delivers on more than just what it is programmed to perform.
1. Operational Cost Saving
In terms of automation, one must take an overarching perspective on how it can offer operational cost savings to the individual and to businesses alike. Any system, device or machine that promises to deliver a solution that would alleviate a need elsewhere may require an initial investment with an expensive price tag. However, if the one-time purchase has proven longevity, then the cost to achieve the same result without it may no longer be worth it. A global study done by McKinsey & Company in 2015 found that, “64% of the total number of working hours in the manufacturing workforce were automatable with currently demonstrated technology.” That translates into an amount of “$2.7 trillion that could be eliminated or repurposed, assuming that demonstrated technologies are adapted for use in individual cases and then adopted.” Maintenance of the automated system would be the only real cost to consider, and yet as can be seen by the aforementioned statistic, it would not be much of a cost when compared to what is being saved. With advances in technology and after a year where in-person work was not an easy reality, automation has been invited into more spheres than ever before, with cost savings as a result of finding new ways to continue forward.
2. Employee Risk Management
Employees are the ones who propel the company mission forward through their work and commitment. Healthy working conditions are only necessary to protect their well-being and effectively achieve company goals. A study published in the Journal of Human Resource Management analyzed 105 employees and found that “62% of respondents ranked [the] physical [work] environment as crucial to their satisfaction which must be maintained or improved upon.”
If employees are tasked with repeated strenuous labor that is demanding on both the body and mind, it can affect their health, work performance, and job satisfaction over time. Incorporating automation into working environments can significantly reduce employee risk. It can do the work that may pose as a danger to others and allow employees to focus on other aspects of the job that might not have gotten the appropriate attention otherwise. Maintaining water conditioning systems at large facilities is a prime example of this. Employees must haul and deliver large salt bags to these systems in order to maintain the conditioning process. The risks that accompany this taxing yet necessary job are many. “Lifting objects or manually handling materials puts workers at risk for back injuries. More than 111,000 such injuries requiring days away from work were recorded in 2017, according to Injury Facts, an online database created by the National Safety Council.” Introducing a form of automation like a brine system can regularly replenish salt on the employees’ behalf so that they no longer have to.
With every prescription medication, there is always a list of potential side effects for the consumer to be aware of. Similarly, industries are regularly producing items that benefit the market they are in, yet far too often bring them about through processes that negatively affect the earth. Right now, “80% of all marine debris from surface waters to deep-sea sediments are plastic” and “in 2019, the U.S. emitted 5.1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide.” Reducing these statistics is a proactively mindful commitment to achieve a healthier environment. However, that is hindered when automation is not a part of companies because of the excess emissions and waste they can produce. Without automation, there is a higher probability to use more energy and resources than needed because there is little in place to signal when and what is enough in industry production. Automation provides process scheduling and material monitoring that safeguard against overuse, which is done at a level that would not accomplish the same result manually. “Facilitating greater automation within an organization is the key to achieving continued reductions in resource use, as well as generating essential data to empower future gains and improved sustainability reporting.”
4. Time & Space Saving
At the onset of the pandemic, store shelves everywhere felt the affect. Demand for items skyrocketed, putting immense pressure on production behind the scenes. For those companies who did not have automation engrained into their business models in some way, it was harder to meet the unique challenge than others who did. A Small Business Trends survey found that “…63% of small businesses say automation allowed their company to quickly pivot from the harm of the pandemic.” Employees can work with automation before, during, and even after production to restock their supply at a fraction of the time then what they can do on their own. Automation is designed to work on a continuous basis, saving the time that would be used when errors occur in the manual process. Alan Duncan of Blue Yonder captures it best in his statement, “Automation has evolved into having a greater focus on flexibility, scalability and process adaptability, becoming a tool to optimize efficiency through manufacturers’ ability to adapt to demands.” Moreover, in terms of facility or office space, automation replaces the many instruments used to manually perform tasks. This increases the value of the physical work environment by providing additional room for growth in various capacities.
Protecting data and property is incredibly important in order to maintain any business’ identity. According to the organization ISACA, “It’s estimated that about 90% of cybersecurity breeches are at least partially attributable to human error. Using automated systems instantly and significantly reduces that risk of error.” Different kinds of automation can signal possible threats to business operations that may or may not be visible to the human eye. With alarms and state of the art locking systems, those who do not have authorized access to business property can be stopped and reported much faster and more effectively than manual efforts alone. Servicing company equipment so that they regularly function well is also important to security. For proper maintenance, certain professionals with specific expertise will be needed to perform the job. However, visits from anyone outside of the company employee list may cause some uneasiness. With automated systems like a brine tank for water conditioning purposes, their location can be outside of your immediate facility to ensure security. Servicing professionals can do all of their maintenance while never stepping foot in the places that hold great value to a company.
The answer to optimizing operational practices lies heavily in re-evaluating the old ways of doing business. In a world where technology is advancing at such a rapid pace, businesses must consider if they truly expect to survive without it. This reality is not more relevant in one industry over another. The water industry in particular collects and distributes far too much data and impacts such a vital part of human life to not utilize automatic systems. Automation changed the course of history before. Why stop now?
- Human + Machine: A New Era of Automation in Manufacturing
- The Effect of Work Environment on Job Satisfaction
- Manual Material Handling and Back Injuries
- Marine Plastics
- How Much Carbon Dioxide Does the U.S. and the World Emit Each Year from Energy Sources?
- Sustainability and Automation: Two Megatrends Reshaping the Commercial & Industrial Space
- 63% of Small Businesses Say Automation Helped Them Endure COVID Pandemic
- Automation and the Impact of COVID-19 in Manufacturing