Communicating an automation project

The French author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once said that “Words are the source of understanding”. Investing in robotics can spark concern among employees, which manufacturing managers must address. By being open with their communication, manufacturers can remove concern and create understanding among staff. Here Sophie Hand, UK country manager at automation parts supplier EU Automation, gives her tips on how to get your employees on board with your new automation project.

Manufacturers are increasingly investing in robotics to automate tasks such as welding, packing, dispensing, cutting and handling.  Developments in robotics, industrial vision and cobots are opening new opportunities for companies to apply automation to mass production processes. As well as this, businesses operating high-mix, low-volume production environments looking to incorporate lean manufacturing principles can see a powerful business case for automation. 

While the benefits of automation to the bottom line of the business are clear, the benefits to employees may be more shrouded in doubt. Though an increase in automation means that job roles are changing, rather than lost, concerns around job security could potentially threaten employee support for an automation project.

In the 2019 Annual Manufacturing Report, Cara Haffey, Industrial Manufacturing and Automotive Leader at PWC, highlighted the need for clear and strong leadership in automation. Manufacturing managers are leading the charge towards automation and as part of this, must remember to minimise the risk of miscommunication about the impact of automation on their employees.

Explain your reasoning

When investing in automation, one of the most important roles that manufacturing managers have is explaining to their workforce what is happening with the automation project. A clear vision must be communicated honestly and early to avoid misconceptions. Because people may be fearful of automation’s impact on job security, an early line of communication can go a long way to reassuring your workforce.

Once you have decided on what automation you are going to implement, delivering presentations to employees is an invaluable process. The presentation should clearly outline why you are investing in robotics before discussing how the company will proceed. The scope of automation must also be explained – are you adding a new robotic cell or building an entirely new line?

During your presentation, you can also explain the timescale for the project and detail the employees’ involvement in the integration of the new equipment, as well as if and how their roles might change long term. Being able to understand the how and why behind automation is essential if the process is to gain the necessary traction.

Be ready to answer

As well as having concerns about job security, staff may also want to know if they will be safe working around the robots. Clearly defining and sharing your health and safety policy, explaining the safety features of equipment and being clear about how staff will be working alongside automation equipment can help to address this concern. Staff may also have concerns about maintaining the equipment and the risk of downtime, which manufacturers can address by partnering with a reliable automation equipment supplier, such as EU Automation, and communicating this clearly with employees.

If your company is to build the support it needs for a new automation project, managers must think carefully about internal communication. By taking advice from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, manufacturers can get their staff behind their new automation project.