Here’s the number one thing that makes robot projects fail or succeed

31 August 2021
Robot Operator
Vinod R
Author

There’s a common pattern for why some robot projects fail – and others succeed according to UK-based #HowToRobot Partner and automation consultant John Roberts.

"Over the 20 years of selling equipment to end-users, I came across hundreds of failed projects in robotics,” says John Roberts. He is the founder and director of ACS, an independent robotics and automation consultancy based in the UK – and a certified #HowToRobot Partner.

His role is to advise companies on how to plan and begin automating the business – and finding the right suppliers ensuring systems are delivered right the first time. Doing that for many years, he discovered a pattern for why so many projects failed: There was little understanding of the business needs before buying costly robots.

“Many businesses find it very difficult to transition from the old manual methods to automated solutions – and the path to success has many obstacles along the way”, he says.

With the right mindset and following some simple processes, however, getting started with robotics is not difficult in his opinion. “It’s not complicated – as long as you have a plan and you follow a process,” he says. 

Why it is important to have a plan

"Buying custom automation is completely different from buying a product. It is like buying a tailored suit. It needs to be tailored to you," John remarks. The biggest mistake customers make is they misunderstand that buying an automation solution most of the time is like purchasing an off-the-shelf product. What they fail to grasp is that they are purchasing a service from a vendor. They make the purchase without any agreed specification from the wrong vendor and end up discovering that the robot is not suitable for their needs.  It’s a very costly mistake.

John helps businesses overcome this challenge. As part of a wider process, he helps the customer get an overview of their automation potential and also calculates an efficient business case. This information is then compiled to a document describing how the system should work for their unique needs. The document covers the purpose, background, and scope of the robotics system to be implemented. It also can include the estimated budget, safety, life cycle requirements, and spare part supply. The agreed document is fundamental to ensure customers get quality proposals from the right vendors. 

John even connects the customers with the best vendors suited for their needs – as a #HowToRobot partner he has access to more than 15,000 suppliers worldwide. He believes that the journey to 'lights out, fully automated' operations is simple. Starting the journey requires an understanding of what you need. Once you figure out how to do it, you can maximize efficiency and minimize unplanned downtimes. So, developing a long-term plan, with expert help if needed, is the first step. Once the process is defined, when the machine comes, it works. It is as simple as that. 

A common myth about robots stops businesses from investing

"I think there are barriers that can prevent many customers from automating. These are usually the fear of the unknown and more importantly, fear of failure.’’ John argues that cost (or ROI) is a big factor that prohibits many people from investing in automating their business. Most customers tend to make the mistake of asking for unrealistic return on investment (ROI) expectations. 

“Sometimes customers expect payback periods that are far too short. It’s not worth compromising on the quality of the equipment and supplier.  They should think in the longer term, automating one piece at a time, looking at a long-term goal of lights out running.”

The right mindset will enable customers to invest in a piece of better equipment with a long payback period. Automating an entire production line or factory is not a quick win but an investment for the next 20 years of growth. 

#HowToRobot Partnership opens the market for customers

John Roberts recently became a certified #HowToRobot Partner to deliver his services more effectively for a broader customer base – and give them more options to choose from. 

“This is particularly important now that so many new businesses in the UK are going to need automation. They will need good and affordable advice,” he says and continues:

“And there simply is not enough suppliers in the UK to cover it all.”

#HowToRobot connects clients with system integrators across the globe. The platform can provide offers on low-cost, fixed-price, trustworthy solutions to solve automation problems. John thinks that the main benefit for the customers is the number and variety of integrators in the network.

“This platform really opens the market for the customers. There is nothing stopping a customer based in the UK from finding the right solution from an integrator based anywhere in Europe,” he says. 

The platform is beneficial for system integrators and vendors as well. John illustrates this with an example, "if you are a food producer, for instance, looking to automate a manual process, look for an integrator who lives and breathes food production.  They have the experience and can prove a track record of success in that sector." The platform helps such a client to reach out to a system integrator with vast experience and expertise in automating food production machinery. Or any industry for that matter.  #HowToRobot is the only platform that enables clients to connect to the right integrators, wherever they are.

Of course, this also means that a system integrator who is good at a particular specialty can get the word out using the #HowToRobot platform that they are the best at what they do. 

What is the best way to get started?

While researching the market to find the best integrators and partners is one side of the story, just as important is how to get started. For someone completely new to robotics, John suggests that a good time to start is when it is time to replace obsolete machines or systems. So, the automation journey can start as soon as the next planned purchase.

The process often starts with mapping the factory to get an overview of the automation projects with most value to the business - and the least risk. Before any vendors are involved, a calculation is made to estimate the potential savings and wins. With these numbers at hand, the customer can receive offers from a handful of suppliers and get an idea of the cost-benefit before going ahead. 

To summarize, start with proper research, and then figure out your unique specifications. Collaborate with the right vendors, manufacturers, and integrators. Slowly upgrade machinery one by one based on a long-term plan. “This is the only way to avoid trouble, very expensive trouble at that!”, John concludes with a smile, "if you have a 'light’s-out' vision (a plan), the only thing you need to get started is the right mindset."

John Roberts is an automation consultant, HowToRobot Partner and founder of ACS
John Roberts is an automation consultant, HowToRobot Partner and founder of ACS

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