In House Automation vs Outsourced Automation


November 2019

In House Automation vs Outsourced Automation

How do you weigh up between investing in, in-house automation expertise or paying for an outsourced machine builder? In this article, we discuss a number of considerations and the pros and cons of both these options.

Many manufacturing companies have the ability to design and develop their own in-house automation systems, which in theory can be a cost-effective solution. Over the years, we have seen a number of well-engineered solutions produced by in-house teams, using their product knowledge to automate their process at a fraction of the cost. This model can work, but it can sometimes be difficult to project manage this approach due to resources being pulled from one job to another and therefore stretching timescales and budgets. Although in-house product and process knowledge can help, it can also hinder innovation because the in house automation team may go down a blinkered path.


In House Automation vs Outsourced Automation


In-Sourcing Knowledge Vs Outsourcing – What is Best?

It may not come as a surprise, but both options have pros and cons. The real decision-making process can only be answered once you have fully evaluated the extent of the work to be carried out and have generated a User Requirement Specification (URS) to define the requirements.

The creation of the URS will also allow the machine builder to quickly understand the scale of the project. The following questions are ones that may seem obvious but are pertinent to making the project a success. These are the types of questions that special purpose machine builders would also be asking themselves when looking at a project.

  • Do we have the ability to project manage such a project?
  • Will we have to up skill our personnel?
  • Do we have the correct resources?
  • Can we complete this on time?
  • Are we limited by your knowledge?


In-House Expertise

There is no doubt that as the product or device manufacturer, you and the people within your organisation will have a vast knowledge of your products and processes. This knowledge is extremely important. However, with established processes, it is all too often the case that “it’s always been done this way” rings true. In this instance, when looking to increase productivity through automation, using “the way we’ve always done it” can stifle inventiveness and the end outcome.

Companies such as SP Technology’s USP have come from years of dealing with multiple sectors and industries. Enabling them to cross-fertilise technologies and adapt these to the different industries. This gets away from the “it’s always been done this way” mentality and helps bring out new innovate ideas for the automation solution.

Working closely with technology partners is also hugely beneficial as this allows machine builders to choose the best-suited programmable logic controller (PLC), Industrial PC (IPC), servo drives, the best way for the comms to work, or most suitable robot and so on. The list is endless, but this approach enables SP Technology to ensure the correct equipment is being used for the solution.



Developing Your Automation Team In-House

If this is the route you are considering going down, then the approach is simple. It all comes down to training and upskilling. The deciding factor of this approach comes down to the level of automation that you are looking to achieve. As an example, the level of skills and knowledge required to integrate industrial robots in the past would have seemed like a long drawn-out process to train someone up, therefore the decision would have probably been made to employ a robot programmer. This is quite a commitment and would require a long-term vision to ensure this person is utilised as much as possible.

In recent years, the introduction of collaborative robots now means that following a relatively short training period, your in house team can be up to speed and have the ability to introduce robots into your manufacturing process. Likewise, 3D printing can be used to minimise manufacturing time and costs in certain instances.

This is quite a simple shift and practical for many businesses, however, a full automation project requires a different team and approach.


What Mix Makes an Automation Team?

As an example, an established automation company will have or should have the following personnel within their team. If they do not and subcontract most of their requirements, then really it is not much different to you, the end-user project managing the activities.

  • Mechanical design engineers, trained on various 2D & 3D cad.
  • Control design engineers to design and develop control systems from scratch.
  • Software engineers, to write the machine code over multiple control platforms.
  • Manufacturing engineers to make the component part for the machine.
  • Build and commission engineers to bring it all together.
  • Good project management to ensure the system is not just kept on track, but also complies with up to date regulations and standards.


Mechanical Design


It is quite clear to see that the level of skill and resources required to carry out large-scale automation can become expensive and in many ways just not practical. Unless you foresee a long-term requirement for in-sourcing your automation, then hiring the above would not make sense.

A full turnkey solution designed, built, and installed by a company such as SP Technology may be the answer you are looking for. Selecting your automation company has to be a very stringent process and it should look beyond the cost.

Your automation partner should have a strong project management record of accomplishment, have all the disciplines in house to allow them to support your project and have the ability and willingness to engage with you to help you develop your requirements. This will allow them to design-build and install your automated solution, to a redefined specification and on time.


So will it be In House Automation vs Outsourced Automation?

There is not really an answer that can be seen from the above, but there are certain criteria that will send you down one road or another. Regardless of which one it is, a key element to the success is the creation of the initial specification or URS, defining the inputs and outputs and any fundamental part of the requirements is essential.

In many cases, the answer is a combination of in-house and outsourced but what is certain is that both require a close look at your existing in house resource capabilities. The whole process starts with many problems and the key here is to break them down into smaller manageable problems and solve one by one.

With new technology, comes new skills and it is paramount that a training plan is put in place to allow you to maintain and service your new automation solutions, whether it is built in house or by a bespoke machine builder.

Again for outsourced or in-house automation, the importance of a transparent approach between the machine builder (or internal team) and the end-user is so important. It is only by cross-fertilising one another’s knowledge and experience that a defined solution can be realised.


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