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Which Task First? How to Automate the Right Jobs for You

Alex Owen-Hill
by Alex Owen-Hill. Last updated on Jan 24, 2023 3:40 PM
Posted on Oct 21, 2022 9:38 AM. 5 min read time

When you're looking to improve your processes with automation, it's important to pick the right tasks.

Automating the correct task can help you free up time for other tasks and boost your operations in various ways. On the other hand, if you automate the wrong task, you risk wasting time, budget, and the goodwill of your team.

How do you know which task you should automate first?

There are many automation solutions available and many applications you could apply them to. Packaging, machine tending, screwdriving, surface finishing, palletizing, sorting, inspection, and many more.

By taking a close and pragmatic look at your business and the tasks you could automate, you can decide which would be the most impactful when automated.

Let's discuss how to find the right first task.

Why it's important to automate the right jobs for you

If you were to ask a dozen different business owners which task you should automate, you would hear a dozen different answers.

People choose to automate tasks in their business for a variety of reasons. One business might choose to automate tasks that are monotonous or dangerous for human workers. Another business might be more interested in reducing errors and wastage, instead focusing on tasks that require a high level of accuracy and consistency.

Only you and your people can tell which task is the right one for you to automate. But you can make your selection process easier and more effective by thinking about it methodically. After all, you wouldn't want to automate a task just based on which of your team members has the loudest voice and most hates a particular part of their job!

The best way to approach the decision is to inspect your business and the tasks that you need to complete.

The benefits of automating the right task at the right time

The fact is that lots of tasks in your business could be automated.

Many activities require human input and always will. Even so, once you start to look, you will see opportunities to automate all over the place.

The question you need to ask yourself is…

Which task will have the most impact on us right now if we automate it with a robot?

It's important to automate the right task at the right time.

This helps to:

  • Improve the return on investment of your automation project.

  • Demonstrate the benefit of automation to those people who are still uncertain about it.

  • Avoid the inefficiency and frustration that comes when you automate a low-impact, complex task.

  • Gain the core skills and experience to continue to add automation to other tasks.

Yes, you may have many candidate tasks for automation. The important thing is to pick one that will have a significant and immediate impact on your operations.

What to consider when choosing a task to automate

Start by looking at all the tasks in your business that you think could be automated.

When you are considering each task, look at factors like:

  1. The complexity of the task — Automating a complex task can be time-consuming and expensive. If a task will require a lot of work to automate, it may be better to start with a simpler one.

  2. The frequency of the task — If you perform a task regularly in your business, automating it will lead to significant gains compared to less commonly required tasks.

  3. The importance of a task — Automating a task that is "mission critical" to your production will have the most impact. For example, adding a palletizing robot directly affects how quickly products get out of the door. So a lot of companies use palletizing as their first robot application.

  4. The cost of automation — Any automation solution requires upfront investment. It's important to consider the ROI and the payback time of your chosen solution.

  5. The ease of automating — Some tasks are inherently easier to automate than others. Also, some solutions require less programming and integration. A robotic application kit will usually be significantly easier, quicker, and cheaper to deploy than a conventional bespoke automation solution.

Keep such factors in mind when you are considering which task to automate first. Doing so will help you identify the best opportunities for automation in your business.

Person working with a collaborative robot in front of a Haas machine

A handy tool to compare tasks in your business

You've created a list of potential tasks for automation and you've considered each of them with the factors listed above…

How can you tell which of your candidate tasks is the best one to automate first?

At Robotiq, we often suggest robot users use the following simple tool to compare different tasks for automation.

The tool simply involves plotting each task on a graph against 2 factors: ease of automation and impact on the business.

For example, a task might be relatively simple to automate but have a low impact on the business. In this case, it might end up making more sense to automate a slightly more complex task that has a very high impact.

Plot all your tasks on a graph and look for those that are both simple to deploy and high-impact.

How to know if it's the right solution and task

Comparing your tasks by ease and impact is a handy way to compare tasks. However, ultimately, the only way to tell if you have automated the right task and chosen the right robotic solution is to measure the results of automation.

You need to monitor the performance of the robotic cell and its impacts on the business after you have deployed it. If you find that your automation solution is having the desired effect, you can add more robots to your business for some of those other tasks on your list. If your first solution isn't yet meeting its promises, use robotic metrics to identify how you can improve the cell so that it does.

Automating even a single task in your business can bring noticeable benefits to your business, so don't be afraid to just get started!

Calculate your ROI

Which tasks would you like to automate in your business? Tell us in the comments below or join the discussion on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or the DoF professional robotics community.


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Alex Owen-Hill
Written by Alex Owen-Hill
Alex Owen-Hill is a freelance writer and public speaker who blogs about a large range of topics, including science, presentation skills at, storytelling and (of course) robotics. He completed a PhD in Telerobotics from Universidad Politecnica de Madrid as part of the PURESAFE project, in collaboration with CERN. As a recovering academic, he maintains a firm foot in the robotics world by blogging about industrial robotics.
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