What are the main issues or points that need addressed?
These will not be in any set order of importance. There are items you need to have on the list so you can make things as smooth as possible. These are some of the key items and the why attached to them. These represent some of the information you will want going in.
Starting condition and final condition needed. Knowing where the material will start when presented to the machine and what you need to do dictate the steps needed. Will it need two different grit sanding passes or will it even need sanding at all? This is the kind of question this information will help answer.
Volume of the parts you need to process. Getting a reasonable count of where you are now and what you project the need to be again is vital. This is important for many reasons with speed being first. You may need to process one every 15 min or you may need one every 30 seconds and this is where you figure that out. Speed has a wide cone of effect and can change the type of machine that is needed. As with cars, planes and all other things speed is expensive. Projecting to far can put you in a position where far more machine than you need is being recommended. Be sure and get good current volumes and at least 24 month projections.
How are you doing these parts now? Knowing how you do them currently gives everyone a head start. Having a basic process at the start saves time and allows skipping some of the upfront tests. If there is a special type of buff or scotch brite that works perfect in your current process why would you not try that first? This also helps to lay out the basics of what is likely needed machine wise again saving time.
Part variety or mixture. If you are looking at automation don't go in with blinders on focused on one part. If there are other parts that get a similar process or have a similar size add them to the list. You may choose to not involve them but it is good to have that information. It can often make sense to bring many parts to a process to get a greater amount of time savings and volume.
Current part handling. Do you have fixtures you currently use? Having drawings and pictures of the fixtures can also save time and costs. Keeping the same fixture or the same fixture concept in the new process will make your life easy as it is a fixture you know.
Things to NOT do.
Don't send parts from the scrap bin as samples. If you send parts with abnormal damage you will get a machine recommended to process that part. You want to send your average part not scrap.
Don't over estimate you volume needs. If you process the parts in 3 min now asking for one every 15 seconds is going to take a lot of machine. This will run the cost up for speed you may not need. If you cant produce the raw part in 15 to 20 seconds the machine will have to sit and wait. Save the cost and buy the speed you actually need.
Don't keep part variations to yourself. If you have typical part to part variations share that up front. Building in some flexibility is 100% possible but only if every one is aware from the start.
Don't be afraid to ask questions. Asking questions is good for all parties involved and should be encouraged. Being involved is the best way you can help avoid issues in future steps. No one knows your parts as well as you do and sharing that knowledge should always be welcomed.
These are some things to keep in mind when you are looking to automate. Having this data up front is going to give you a better picture of where you are. It will also help you to see where you need to be going forward. The data helps to get things moving much faster and just makes the process easier for every one. If you have questions on a part or process of your own please feel free to reach out as answering questions is never a problem.