Exploring the content and process of automation decisions in manufacturing system development projects : A study in the Swedish wood products industry

Abstract: The wood industry has great potential to support the development of a more sustainable future based on a circular economy. For Sweden to be able to maintain its competitive position as a leading wood industry nation, products with increased added value are needed. To realize this development, new and efficient automated solutions supporting the manufacturing systems in place in the industry are essential. However, although automation of manufacturing can result in competitive advantages, this is far from always being the case. A number of researchers have convincingly argued that investments in automation of manufacturing are more likely to succeed if they are the expression of well-grounded decisions made during the design of a manufacturing system. It is further argued that such decisions need to be linked to a company’s manufacturing strategy. And yet despite this, automation decisions are often made ad hoc and based on gut feelings.The essential purpose of this thesis therefore is to support informed automation decisions in the context of manufacturing system development projects carried out in the wood products industry. To fulfill the purpose, multiple research studies have been conducted including literature reviews and case study method.This thesis contributes with increased knowledge on the content and process of automation decisions in manufacturing system development projects conducted in the wood products industry. Close study of automation decisions made during manufacturing system design from a manufacturing strategy perspective has produced a set of guiding suggestions. These include the identification of aspects that need consideration when automation decisions are being made during the design of manufacturing systems. Furthermore, through studying the process leading to automation decisions during manufacturing system design, potential pitfalls for the wood products industry are exemplified and tactics used to support decision-making related to automation are suggested. Last, this thesis extends the current understanding about manufacturing systems in the wood products industry by presenting the drivers and challenges for automation of manufacturing.