What is autonomation?
"Automation with a human touch".
It is generally applied to one piece flow operations where one person may be operating several machines but his/her human intelligence is linked into the process.
Autonomation removes operators from the inspection cycle on machines by introducing simple mechanisms that detect production abnormalities. Instead of aiming for a hugely costly (and often failed policy) of full automation, the majority of the benefits can be obtained using simple, low cost machines with the operator being responsible for a number of them.
The purpose of autonomation is that it is part of the continuous improvement process whereby abnormalities are identified immediately, corrected and mistakes not repeated. Autonomation removes judgement from the operator and permits the control of many machines/processes because their intervention is only required when there is a problem which the machine will alert them to. Consequently, the work becomes more interesting, product quality is improved and productivity increased. All of this is without the requirement for a large capital injection.
Quality inspection is removed from the final product to every part in its production thus reducing the amount of work that is added to a defective product. A worker who is self-inspecting their own work, or source-inspecting the work produced immediately before their work station is encouraged to stop a machine or process when a defect is found. This detection is the first step in Jidoka. A machine performing the same defect detection process is engaged in autonomation.
Once the machine/process is stopped a designated person helps correct the problems immediately. In conjunction with autonomation a "mistake-proofing" device can be introduce into the machine/process. Such a device is known as poka-yoke.