Food Industry Struggles with Barriers to Automation
In a recent Food Processing article on the barriers to automation, our own Process Specialist, John Parraga, shared his expertise in the following section:
Man and machine
No matter how, or how much, a plant is automated, there’s still the human factor. Floor workers have to operate, monitor or otherwise interact with equipment, and it’s important that they be prepared to do so.
Perhaps the most important factor is attitude. As long as there have been machines doing what humans used to do, some of the humans have resented it. And if a worker decides, consciously or unconsciously, that a machine isn’t going to work, it won’t work.
“Operators can make or break the success of a new automation system,” says John Parraga, a process specialist at control integrator ECS Solutions. “Listening to their needs is sometimes more or as important as listening to other system stakeholders.” That means giving them a sense of ownership from the beginning, by asking them how they operate the current or previous system and how they would like the new one to be different.
“Even though the system designer has a good idea of what is required and what the new system may look like, it is important to listen to the operators say what they need,” Parraga says. “With this simple step, operators feel empowered to influence the final design and will support onboarding activities for all operators.”
Those onboarding activities are critical. The most sophisticated, efficient piece of equipment in the world will be useless if the people who have to run it don’t know what they’re doing. Inadequate training (or none at all) is one of the biggest stumbling blocks as automation increases.
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