What is the Average Lead Time for a Custom Built Automated Machine?


August 2020

How long does it take to receive a custom-built machine?

The answer is it depends.

Quite simply, a £3million system will typically have a much longer lead time than a £300,000 system. Some smaller systems may have a lead time of 12 weeks whereas some larger systems may be closer to a year.


Lead time is always one of the most discussed items when going through the tendering stage for a project. It is something that companies prioritise as one of their key objectives when choosing a vendor to commission their custom bespoke machine. There are several reasons they prioritise this:

  • Production demands dictate when the system is needed. For example, your company has won a new contract and the only way to meet the demands is to increase productivity through automation.
  • You want to start achieving ROI as soon as possible and recover the costs you have outlaid during the machine build.
  • It is a replacement machine for an existing machine that is causing a lot of issues. The sooner the new equipment is in, then, the sooner you can stop using the old machine.


To summarise, you are buying a machine to solve a problem, and the sooner the machine is in service, the faster the problem will disappear.


How do we calculate the lead time?

To provide a realistic lead time, we utilise the fact that we have completed a very detailed quotation for the system, taking into account man hours for all disciplines, bought in costs for “standard” equipment, and also development costs. As your system will be bespoke and unique, the experience of the machine builder is very important as it can be easy to get it wrong.

The ability to get the cost and concept right is achieved only by having years of experience in building bespoke automated machines. Some examples of activities we will allocate times against:

  • Documentation (CE marking, Risk Assessments, etc.)
  • Software
  • Mechanical
  • Control
  • Setup & Internal Trials
  • Machine Debug
  • Debug Development
  • Service & Commissioning
  • Machine Assembly
  • Client Trials
  • Wiring
  • Packaging & Shipping

The above gives us a realistic expectation of how a machine project will progress. It takes into account that with bespoke machines and first off designs there will be some time required for debugging and fine-tuning.


Should you choose the vendor with the shortest time?

Sadly, it is not as simple as that. We advise customers to do their due diligence and ensure the vendor has put time and effort into their calculation of the project plan and isn’t just saying whatever it takes to win the order.

Some things to look out for:

  • Have they given you a detailed proposal? How in-depth is it? And have they looked at the machine concept in detail and provided you with sufficient information?
  • Have they highlighted what the challenges of the project are, and how their solution will overcome these?
  • Have they shown a thorough understanding of your product and processes and what is needed to be achieved?
  • Can they provide a project plan and if so, does it seem realistic?
  • Does the plan match the resources they have?
  • Have they highlighted what the long lead time items are?
  • What has been included in the time they have quoted? Is it for full turnkey to the point where the system is onsite and key persons trained? Something that is common is that some companies will quote for the time up to and including FAT’s being completed, but not included any onsite and commissioning time
  • Is the vendor prepared to provide you with an in-depth cost breakdown? If not, they may not have thought of everything, or they may be reluctant to divulge overpricing.
  • Have they allocated sufficient trialling and debugging time?

Transparency is key to a successful project and sharing as much information at the quotation stage as possible is crucial from a detailed breakdown of costs, detailed specifications, and a comprehensive plan, which should all marry together.


Shorter lead time may mean a lower quality system

Most importantly, if a machine builder is quoting you time significantly less than the other companies who have tendered, what will you receive in return?  The time saving is unlikely to be efficient; the easiest way to reduce a lead time is a compromise somewhere. This may mean less time spent on design, development, and building a high-quality machine, and perhaps your machine may not have been trialled for long enough for any issues to show themselves. Although you may get the system on time, it may not be production-ready and when it comes on-site and it doesn’t work efficiently, the time required for training operators will be taken up by the vendor’s engineers firefighting problems on site.


At SP Automation & Robotics, we pride ourselves on building machines of the highest quality and monitor the process using strict project management and quality procedures. This coupled with our extensive knowledge of building bespoke solutions, and a transparent approach means that you, the customer, will be made fully aware of what you will end up with when the machine is installed in your factory. Things will go wrong along the route, but what is important is understanding how these problems will be dealt with. Honest and open communication is key to making an automation project successful.


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