Your products aren’t designed for automation. This is costing you millions.

As product designers and engineers, we are all familiar with the concept of Design for Manufacturing. But often, we come across products that are ready for manufacturing, but little attention is paid for their design for automation. This single oversight, could cost your products millions when manufacturing.

Why should I design for automation?

Manufacturers are desperately looking for ways to produce, cheaper, faster, and more sustainably (See manufacturing trends 2022). Following a set of basic guidelines at the design stage, ensures that any experienced contract manufacturer can implement automation for your products.

While a lot of technical considerations need to be put into place, there are some steps that you can take, to ensure that automation is embedded as early as possible in the design stage of every product.

Following these guidelines, ensures that you are covering the basics. When your products are designed for automation, it makes it easy for your contract manufacturer to offer affordable and realistic automation solutions:

Plan your products for ramping up.


It’s important to think about how your product or sub-assembly is going to ramp up in volumes. Will it be slower over time? Or are you trying to produce as many as possible to benefit from first mover advantage?

Until recently, the only available option was to build custom automation solutions. Whilst it may give best unit cost, it’s the riskiest option available. 

An alternative is to approach it with a modular automation mind set. Think of solving ‘bottleneck’ processes with automation, and combine steps with manual assembly. This approach allows initial volumes to be lower (in the 1000’s), and you can scale up the line by adding more ‘modules’ when needed. Gradually you build up to a fully automated manufacturing line producing millions of units.


If your SKUs will increase, plan for it early.


At the beginning of your manufacturing, it is important to keep the number of SKU’s down to a minimum. If variations are critical for your product line, then think how your custom automation line can cater for that. It is important that you keep this on your radar when designing your products.

Adding different SKUs after the product is fixed, will cause issues, particularly if you are building a custom automation line.

In an ideal world, you want a single manufacturing line that can cater for multiple SKUs, with little changeover downtime, and that doesn’t require a huge capex investment. Thankfully this option is available. An experienced contract manufacturer with an automation mindset, should be able to offer you this solution. If they don’t do it, keep searching, they are out there.

The way these systems work, to cater for multiple SKUs is simple. Your modular assembly line has different ‘feeder’ modules, that store different variants of parts (colours/screw types, etc) and can be swapped over quickly. This applies more to products that use a similar architecture, but need to change the type based on end-user requirement like colour, cosmetic type, performance, flavours, and quality.

Design for Automation Checklist

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) provide futureproofing.


Building in AI and ML into your automation is critical. It allows you to reduce the amount of manual programming, increases the quality of parts and improves the precision to desired specification. Combining camera vision systems with 3-6 axis robots, can be a very powerful way to cater for multiple variants in your products.

Until recently, this technology was only available for a few manufacturers that could afford it. Thanks to the advancements in the field, new modular automation systems offer this technology without breaking the bank.

By implementing this into a modular automation line, you can create a very flexible and smart, manufacturing system, that can be self-adjusted, modified quickly and efficiently.

Curious about Design for Automation?

Get in touch with us today, and get a free assessment to understand how ready your products are for automation.

To ship or not to ship. Stay close to your key markets…


Let’s face it, manufacturing in China isn’t as cheap as it used to be.

You need to do an analysis to compare the cost savings from manufacturing in China (lower operator costs) versus the cost of shipping. Worry not, we have done it for you, these are the highlights:

  • Shipping and logistics costs from China are now x10 higher, than they were,  just six months ago.
  • China labour rates have steadily risen over the past 5-10 years by 30%, as standard of living increases. 
  • Shipping is a key factor, rates for containers have increased up to x10 price (from $2000 to $20,000).
  • Cost/availability of Air freight is limited, the big players are taking all the shipping slots years in advance, to ensure their delivery for seasonal products.
  • There is also a shortage of shipping containers, this further squeezes the supply/demand for shipping by sea, pushing up air freight costs.
Bloomberg factory price index 
Source: Bloomberg


For these reasons, it makes sense to plan your manufacturing closer to your key markets. Automation can really help, allowing you to reduce the number of operators, compared to a manual line. For example, a fully modular automated line, only needs 3 operators per shift. Compare that to the 20, 30, 40 operators, needed in a manual assembly line.

This opens the doors to new manufacturing options that, without automation, weren’t possible. For example, your products can now be manufactured in eastern Europe, where labour costs are marginally higher than China. Your shipping and logistics costs will also be lower, translating all these reductions to your manufacturing costs.

Design for Automation Checklist

Design for automation = Design for sustainability.


Designing your products for automation, also means that you are designing them for sustainability. But not all automation methods are created equal, so make sure you are planning for the right type of automation.

Think of your product, and all the processes involved. Then reduce to as minimum as possible, the number of steps for assembly. Once you have a clear picture of your work instructions, think of how to group some of those processes together. 

Having this under control, an experienced automation-focused contract manufacturer, can take it a step further and advice on how to fit those processes in the smallest number of automation modules, building an ultra-efficient automated assembly line.

Risk mitigation to improve chances of success


We are seeing longer and longer lead times for specific parts, used in automation lines. Things like linear drives that are sourced from Germany, are now taking 5-6 months to arrive, and when you are looking to get into the market, delays of key components can be costly. This is translated into loss of revenue.

Changes in design due to user feedback or quality reasons are normal for high complexity projects. When designing for automation, make sure that you are building in flexibility. This is a good way to absorb design changes when they happen.

Also calculating key product metrics like ROI, volume and capacity will be expected, to understand risk, and convince your key stakeholders. CAPEX investment into automation is usually one of the biggest barriers to entry. 

This is why products are often launched with a manual assembly process, where initial CAPEX is lower, even if the gains from automation are obvious in the mid to long term.

Design for Automation Checklist


Automation projects are implemented on existing products to solve technical problems or current supplier problems. When used like this, it makes the integration of automation much harder, expensive and takes very long to implement.

Think about design for automation as soon as you can, preferably whilst in product development and R&D. All options should be on the table, from custom automation to modular automation systems. Working closely with your contract manufacturer is important, and when in doubt, always look for a second opinion.

Designing for automation speeds up the development process and time to manufacture, it lowers risk and cost of change, which is critical in situations where first mover advantage is needed.

I’ve seen it often enough now, it really pays to think about implementing design for automation as early as possible.

Ashley Sayed

CEO - Intretech Uk

I’m dedicated to helping manufacturers solve their problems, through automation. I have 25 years experience taking complex electronics products from prototype to mass production. I’ve delivered products for some of the biggest names, from Google, Philips, Tom Tom, to Microsoft. I've been on the other side of the table as a customer, and know how daunting automation can be. I'm driven by making automation easy and straightforward for our customers.

2022 trends

5 predictions for manufacturing in 2022

While the last two years have also shown us, what a difficult exercise it is to predict what is going to happen in the next few months, I spoke with some of our colleagues at Intretech and also some customers, to understand their vision.
Here are some of their predictions for manufacturing in 2022

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