By Emily Newton,

Work that is dirty and dangerous is common in manufacturing and heavy industry. While challenging for workers, these tasks are often extremely important. At the same time, this work is often a great target for process automation.

Streamlining these tasks by removing or minimizing human input can provide significant benefits for organizations of all kinds. These are the top five benefits of process automation.

1. Saving Employees’ Time

Saving time is often the biggest benefit of process automation for manufacturers and other heavy industrial businesses. Automated workflows are often faster and more accurate than manual processes, meaning that process automation will both speed up tasks and prevent rework.

Automating tasks also frees up employees for more important work. The employees who previously completed these tasks will be able to instead do work that requires problem-solving, creativity or communication skills.

For example, process automation can allow a business to continuously monitor and control measurement devices, allowing a manufacturer to partially or fully automate monitoring tasks that previously required human labor.

Workers previously assigned to monitoring sensors and making necessary adjustments to site processes can instead pivot to other tasks — like auditing workflows or evaluating site processes for potential performance-improving changes.

The specific amount of time that organisations will save can vary, but even simple changes may be able to free hours of labor per day per task automated.

By implementing process automation, businesses may be able to recapture this time, making their workers much more productive and freeing them from tasks that are repetitious or unrelated to their actual skills.

2. Reducing Operating Costs

By saving employees’ time, businesses can also make their workers much more productive — potentially increasing revenue and driving down business operating costs.

Depending on the particular solution that a business chooses, these savings can be significant.

At the administrative level, adopting intelligent automation— robotic process automation (RPA) tools that leverage AI — can produce cost savings of 40 to 75 percent.

While process automation is often associated with tasks directly related to the manufacturing process, the right automation tool can help with many aspects of operating a manufacturing business — including effective plant management.

For example, upgrades to a building’s HVAC system can make the system more efficient and less expensive to operate. With process automation, a business can automate the management of new HVAC equipment like thermostats and smart vents, allowing for even more cost-effective HVAC operation. In many cases, it can be possible for plant managers to use this technology to improve worker comfort and safety without significantly increasing HVAC operating costs.

3. Minimising Errors

Process automation can help manufacturers ensure that tasks are completed the same way every time. This consistency helps to reduce errors and ensure product quality.

When process automation solutions make mistakes — for example, due to programming errors, improper machine tooling or unforeseen edge-cases — their mistakes are often very consistent.

Consistent mistakes are easier to identify, diagnose and fix. Workers should be able to adjust the process automation to permanently prevent future mistakes once they’ve identified a mistake.

By contrast, human error can be very inconsistent. Workers may only make process mistakes when tired or attempting to hit weekly deadlines. Their mistakes may also vary significantly. As a result, human error can be harder to catch and fix. In some cases, businesses may have to accept this error as a fact of life.

With process automation, businesses can more effectively identify and minimize errors in their manufacturing processes. Over time, fewer errors will reduce operational costs and, potentially, product recalls, waste and revisions.

4. Improving Employee Safety and Satisfaction

A single medically-consulted injury costs over $42,000, according to the National Safety Council. Even minor musculoskeletal injuries can require substantial recovery time — otherwise, workers may be at risk of making the injury worse.

Automation can make processes more ergonomic, or eliminate repetitive and non-ergonomic processes altogether. For example, implementing process automation may eliminate tasks that require workers to stoop, bend and lift heavy objects onto a conveyor belt, helping to prevent muscle strain and related injuries.

Sparing workers from boring or dull work can also help to improve productivity and save manufacturers money.

Disengaged employees tend to be less productive than workers who are satisfied with their work. Workers who spend a lot of their day completing repetitive or unengaging work may remain less productive, even when they move on from administrative tasks.

If workers are particularly disengaged or dissatisfied at work, they may also begin to look for a new job. Over time, this can lead to increased turnover and new hiring expenses.

With process automation, businesses can keep workers engaged by automating tasks that are likely to sink employee satisfaction.

5. Securing a Competitive Advantage

Despite the growing availability of process automation solutions — and technology like AI — many manufacturers still haven’t adopted robotics or automated machinery.

Businesses that leverage process automation can secure a valuable competitive advantage over businesses that have not. These businesses will be able to increase productivity levels beyond that of their competition and have higher levels of employee satisfaction.

While sophisticated manufacturing automation with Industry 4.0 technology is becoming increasingly common, it’s still possible for a business to be an early adopter of the technology in their particular sector or niche.

Adopting the technology now will provide businesses with the institutional knowledge and experience they need to develop a long-term advantage over similar businesses.