What Is Custom Automation? Key Concepts & Benefits
You may have a general idea of custom automation—but what exactly does the process entail?
In simple terms, custom automation streamlines industrial processes. It enhances companies’ manufacturing capabilities, making them either partially or completely automated, and ensures each manufacturing function is tailored to the user’s exact needs.
At Nexus Automation, we steer clear of one-size-fits-all solutions. To make certain our clients enjoy efficient, scalable manufacturing processes, we develop custom systems that include seamless automation process design, skilled engineering, and state-of-the-art equipment—all of which we tailor to accommodate each client’s specifications.
The result of transitioning from manual to automated processes? Custom automation solutions lead to higher-quality production, more extensive yields, and lower manufacturing costs in the long term.
But we’ll get to the advantages of custom automation. First, let’s dive into the custom automation process and explore its inner workings.
I. How Does Custom Automation Work?
Technological advancements have transformed the manufacturing industry. Today automation can be applied in manufacturing situations ranging from mass production processes to low-volume, high-mix environments. In custom automation, machinery and equipment join forces to improve industrial processes via self-optimization.
1. Fully automated vs. semi-automated solutions
Custom automation doesn’t always indicate complete automation. As discussed, it can be fully or semi-automated—and both solutions are viable.
In fully automated solutions, parts are fed into and taken out of the machine without operator intervention. The process is completely automated, so there are no manual steps to speak of.
Conversely, in semi-automated solutions parts are loaded and unloaded manually from the machine, and processes are activated manually by an operator (typically with the push of a button). Semi-automated solutions cover a broad spectrum, however, and may include minimal or extensive manual intervention.
For instance, the operator may load and unload the system, and then sit back while the assembly equipment oversees the rest of the process; or, the operator—in addition to loading and unloading the parts—may perform manual checks at each station. The key takeaway is that semi-automated solutions include a combination of manual and machine-aided functions. Even something as simple as adding a valve to a manual operation would fall under the realm of semi-automation.
It’s worth noting that semi-automated systems are often the first step toward full automation, and allow companies to stagger their investment as they work to master their custom solution. Organizations that have just begun to automate their processes typically enjoy cost savings with semi-automated machinery, and many of them choose to invest in fully automated equipment later down the road.
2. Types of custom automation machinery
At Nexus Automation, our aim is to ensure each client has access to the machinery, equipment, and other resources they need to completely or partially automate their manufacturing processes.
The following pieces of machinery, among others, are frequently used in custom automation:
• Assembly machines: These machines drive automation systems, as well as both fully and semi-automated production lines. They are highly efficient, engineered to meet top quality standards, and feature 100% turnkey capabilities.
• High-speed closing machines: These machines are the ultimate high-throughput cap-closing solution. They offer consistency and reliability, and can be customized to accommodate a number of different hinge types.
• Inspection machines: Precision is crucial to sound manufacturing. Accordingly, inspection machines assess assembly height accuracy, guarantee the correct shape and size of each part, check for missing components, and more.
• Integrated process machines: Combining multiple automated processes requires a more complex machine. Integrated process machines are equipped to accommodate orientation, labeling, ultrasonic welding, and many other tasks.
• Testing machines: These machines fulfill a range of testing requirements, including leak, flow, and function tests. Automated force and strain testing technology is often integrated to determine the product’s strength and durability.
• Laser tube cutting machines: These machines offer solutions for a variety of materials and sizes. Flexible tubing can be cut, assembled, and chemically bonded, while dip tubing can help to dispense aerosol valves.
From programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and human machine interfaces (HMIs), to vision cameras and robots—and from sensors to servomotors—automation relies on a number of moving parts and tools. That said, when implemented correctly the results can be expansive. Material handling equipment—palletizing robots, for instance—help to load all parts properly, orient them appropriately, and prepare materials of all shapes and sizes for production.
3. Automated laser systems at Nexus Automation
Nexus Automation features custom scribing, ablating, welding, and cutting robotic workstations and laser systems that solve common manufacturing problems. Our laser solutions are fully automated once the product in question is delivered and located on the system part fixture.
Supported worldwide, our laser systems automatically orient themselves to the part, and then align with the relevant features. To automate the manufacturing process, the tools can be programmed using an e-file—for instance, a DXF file, a high-resolution PDF file, or perhaps another format.
At Nexus Automation, we use two types of laser systems:
• Solaris: Our Solaris machines can be upgraded to include automation. These industrial fiber and CO2 laser coding, marking, and engraving systems work best while the product is in motion. In addition to integrating with factory upstream and downstream equipment, they provide the control and flexibility required to meet the accuracy requirements for SMART glass and solar cell scribing.
• Lumina: Our Lumina machines accommodate all production specifications, and range from tabletop size to large-scale machines that can easily integrate in a factory setting. These laser micro-machining turning centers can cut complex shapes and features while adhering to the client’s specific requirements. The Lumina series stations are versatile, and can be configured for both wet and dry cutting applications.
Our PhD-level laser specialist develops custom solutions across industries and applications. Above all, Nexus Automation offers solutions that align with the client’s production goals and overall business objectives.
II. What Are the Benefits of Custom Automation?
Custom automation offers safety, cost savings, and speed. Similarly, the efficiency custom automation provides allows manufacturers to focus more extensively on quality.
No matter your industry, and no matter where you’re located, the right automation solutions will make an impact. Custom automation offers the following benefits:
1. Increased uptime & safety
Custom automation solutions offer better uptime by reducing points of failure and allowing machines to function with fewer operators on the factory floor. Both fully and semi-automated solutions lower the risk of general error, and fully automated systems all but eliminate operator mistakes. Simply put, machines aren’t prone to human error—and for this reason, downtime usually plummets after integrating custom automation.
Automation also promotes safety. Custom solutions protect laborers by allowing machines to take over the tasks that are considered too dangerous—or even mildly risky—for personnel. Those who adopt custom automation solutions can say goodbye to lost manpower due to accidents on the floor.
2. Improved process optimization & accuracy
Custom automation gives manufacturers deep insights into their products and processes, and promotes a high level of quality and reliability. Since manufacturing is a global industry, automation can also ensure organizations are meeting international quality standards. Think process improvement unlike ever before.
Also, machines have the capacity to complete more tasks in less time than their human counterparts—and manufacturing and repetition go hand in hand. As a result, automation promotes greater accuracy when completing repetitive work.
3. Greater efficiency & production volume versatility
Machines don’t have to think—at least not if they’re working as they should be. For this reason, they are good at multitasking and can focus on multiple aspects of production simultaneously. Their efficiency typically leads to a substantial boost in productivity, as well as a higher throughput.
That is, custom automation can accommodate higher production volumes in less time. But automation isn’t exclusive to high-volume, low-mix production environments—automated machines can also accommodate low-volume, high-mix environments. By leveraging a predictable but adaptable process, automated machines can facilitate variation while offering better tailoring and responsiveness.
4. Customization at a lower cost
With custom automation, manufacturers can meet all their internal requirements while creating the exact solutions they desire. Machinery and equipment can be programmed to meet precise strength, durability, size, and other requirements. This translates to complete customization for less money.
While custom automation solutions are certainly an investment, the returns can be quite substantial. After making the initial investment, manufacturers enjoy lower equipment ownership costs. Custom machinery doesn’t have to be replaced as often as non-custom alternatives, and repairs can be made quickly because manufacturers typically understand how their custom solutions work—there’s little to no guesswork involved in troubleshooting the issues that arise. An additional perk is that automated solutions allow companies to cut back on hiring and training costs.
III. Strategies to Ensure a Successful Custom Automation Project
As technologies continue to evolve, more and more manufacturers will look into automating their processes. Investing in custom automation equipment, however, is no small undertaking.
Organizations can follow these strategies to ensure a successful custom automation project:
1. Define your goals & ask questions
It’s essential to gain a clear picture of what you’re hoping to achieve as a result of custom automation. Before committing to a solution, companies should define their requirements and objectives. This will give you a sense of what to look for in terms of design, manpower, space, and other factors relating to custom automation.
Common objectives for automation include:
• Reducing human error
• Reducing production time
• Enhancing product quality
• Ensuring reliability and consistency
• Integrating automated inspection or specialized handling steps into an existing process
Companies should also assess what they can afford before developing a custom automation solution. Be sure to think about every performance spec you need, from cycle time to statistical reporting, and determine what you’re willing to give up so you can automate for a lower cost.
2. Review your product design & communicate with your provider
Consistency is a critical aspect of automation, so—before bringing your project to fruition—be sure to review your product design and confirm your product is within the right tolerance range. Then, go over the resources your personnel will need to install and maintain in order to automate your industrial processes.
At this point, you can reach out to a provider like Nexus Automation and describe what you’re looking for in a custom automation solution. Assess what your operators and production managers want, talk to your provider, and stay communicative. We’ll recommend changes as needed to keep your project simple and smooth-sailing while ensuring the quality and reliability of your system.
3. Start simple & plan for expansion
If you are integrating custom automation for the first time, focus on developing a low-risk, high-return solution. Many companies are eager to implement complex solutions right off the bat; however, the strongest teams recognize the importance of taking it slow.
So before integrating a complex system, scale back and automate a single component. Define your scope of work, and keep those objectives we discussed accessible for future expansion. You can add more steps, part numbers, or secondary operations as you get acquainted with your new automated process. Be patient, plan carefully, and the results will come in time.
IV. 5 Things to Look for in a Custom Automation Provider
Custom automation providers have the client’s best interests in mind—and Nexus Automation is no exception. If you come to us with one idea and we offer a different perspective, please hear us out. Our aim is to design the best system for your application, and we pledge to work with you to meet your needs in the most efficient, cost-effective way.
To this end, here are five things to look for when deciding on a custom automation provider:
1. Seamless experience
The best partnerships are mutually beneficial. At Nexus Automation, we work with organizations across industries, and take pride in innovating for companies in the Bay Area and beyond.
In short, we go over each client’s unique requirements, discuss them, and implement a custom solution that will help the company reach its automation goals. This translates to a seamless experience for everyone involved.
2. Relevant projects
Those on the lookout for custom automation solutions should find a provider whose project portfolio is filled with relevant work. Nexus Automation has developed hundreds of automation solutions from assembly and dispensing, to processing and packaging, and so much more. You can take a look at the full list of our applications here.
When it comes to relevant projects, we’ve got you covered. Nexus has built automated equipment ranging from small fixtures to full systems for companies of all sizes. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us about your project—we’ve likely done something similar in the past, and we would love to hear more about your needs and objectives.
3. Emphasis on quality & ISO certification
Chances are quality is a top priority in your search for a custom automation provider. We believe that’s the way it should be. Nexus Automation is ISO 9001:2015- and ISO 13485:2016-certified—the latter for medical devices—and equipped to deliver solutions of the highest quality in every project we undertake.
Our certifications exceed international manufacturing quality standards, and reinforce the fact that we have specific processes and specialists in place for premium fabrication. Your automation project will be in good hands with us.
4. System integration
System integration should be a crucial part of your supplier’s process. At Nexus Automation, it’s at the forefront of what we do. We understand the requirements and tools needed for each project, and our team has the skillset required to integrate a full spectrum of custom automation solutions.
Our engineers are trained to develop and integrate your system while following both industry and internal regulations. In fact, our whole team is well-acquainted with the latest technologies in design, 3D modeling, CNC machining, and more.
5. Turnkey capabilities
A turnkey solution means you can purchase a completed automation project. Not every provider offers this approach, but Nexus Automation specializes in turnkey solutions. We have vast resources available onsite to build or upgrade your automated system.
Since every part is made right in our facility, our experienced design engineers will manufacture your system in an efficient, cost-effective manner—no cumbersome steps or unnecessary pieces included.
V. Return on Investment (ROI) in a Custom Automation Project
When companies automate their workflow, they want to maximize returns. As we’ve mentioned, custom automation solutions represent a significant initial investment—and for this reason, it’s important to understand how the system will save your organization money in the long term.
In theory, your goal is to make more money than you spend on automation. As such, to increase your return on investment (ROI), you need to either decrease your capital or increase your profit over time. Ideally, both changes will take place simultaneously.
You likely have new capital coming in. You’ve got your product sales. In addition, you have expenses including raw materials, net utilities, operating expenses, and maintenance costs. Your initial automation investment likely included:
• Hardware purchases & installation
• Infrastructure upgrades
• System support & user training
• Project expenses
• Software licenses
• Application services ranging from design & configuration, to custom coding & integration
In turn, you will almost definitely incur the following ongoing maintenance and support costs:
• Hardware & infrastructure upgrades
• Hardware & software support agreements
• Ongoing system support & end user training
• Internal support costs
• New release mitigation costs
These expenses are considerable, but each item is meant to maximize your ROI. Specifically, automation will work to ensure a faster production turnaround, higher throughput, more efficient project management, less downtime, and lower operating and maintenance costs—all of which help to increase profit and lower expenses in the long run.
This is where we come in. Nexus Automation understands the importance of cost savings, and we will do everything in our power to make sure you enjoy a high return on your custom automation investment. Partner with our team of experts, and you’ll find we are deeply committed to your manufacturing needs and objectives.