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FLEXO Magazine : February 2014
• Analyze your stakeholders • Begin looking at your current workflow “A common mistake is to start automating without having a big picture in mind,” says Bobby Congdon, a research asso- ciate at the Sonoco Institute of Packaging Design & Graphics at Clemson University in Clemson, SC. Congdon wrote an article in the November 2012 issue of FLEXO® Magazine enti- tled “Re-Engineering Workflow for Automation” that should be considered essential reading for any project manager looking to implement aspects of automation into the workflow. In it, he outlines detailed steps on mapping both a current and ideal state workflow, and then using that ideal state map as a foundation for determining where to automate. When charting a workflow, consider each separate step where a job changes hands. Within each step, determine all of the major tasks done to complete that step. Within each task, list each piece of software and each piece of data used to complete that task. Find any potential errors that might come about from operator error in that task and list them. Once you’ve mapped each workflow/step/task/software, you can use this as a guide for determining where automation will have the biggest impact. DEPLOY SMARTER If your organization has never taken the time to actually map its workflows, you might be surprised when putting them together to find just how convoluted some can be. Use this as a starting point for discovering inefficiencies and finding opportunities for improvement. Take a lesson from General Motors. When Roger Smith became CEO of GM in 1981, he carried with him a grand vision that automation would propel GM back into dominance as the preeminent automobile manufacturer in the U.S. Smith spent billions to automate his factories with robotics and dis- place human labor, but he did so without understanding that Japanese supremacy at the time was the result of efficiency and lean principles. The new GM factories may have had advanced robotic machines, but the automation put into place was simply add- ed—at an incredibly high cost—to processes and workflows that were poor to begin with. You’ll find the same thing happening in many prepress trade shops, and a number of other industries, to this day. Consider one of the principles described by Jim Collins in his 2001 book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make The Leap... And Others Don’t: “The good to great companies used technology as an accelerator of momentum, not a creator of it.” Automation alone will not solve all workflow problems. You need to question your current processes, identify the weak points and weed them out of a workflow. “ There are a lot of bad automated workflows being put into place,” says Congdon. “ Entire complex workflows are duplicat- ed when only one step or parameter changes. A primary ben- efit of an automated workflow is to drive it with data, but many workflows either handle the exceptions and variables poorly or don’t automate the step because it seems overly complex. ” Take the time to ensure that workflows make sense and determine whether you can cut down on the lead time or improve quality just by making modifications to the processes by which you work. “It’s not enough to just replicate what you’re doing currently in a more automated fashion,” says Congdon. “ Figure out which pieces of the workflow could benefit from data connec- tions, and how existing steps could be combined or simplified. ” WHAT TO AUTOMATE? Generally, the most valuable things to automate in any industry fall into one of three categories: www.flexography.org FEBRUARY 2014 FLEXO 49