Automation, robotics, and the factories of the future

Manufacturing technology has come a long way in the space of a few short years.

Lower costs, leaner techniques and the advent of cloud computing, big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning have seen robotic automation come to the fore in many different areas of production.

More and more manufacturing and engineering firms are deploying robots for a host of tasks, such as handling, packing, assembly and shipping, as well as more complex actions that require a high degree of precision, like cutting and welding.

Automation can help improve productivity, safety and efficiency in many production facilities while enhancing quality and innovation.

Even for the smallest businesses, the question of whether they’ll benefit from investing in robotics and automation is becoming impossible to ignore.

Here, we take a closer look at robotics and automation, the benefits they bring and the role they are set to play in the factories of the future.

What is robotic automation?

Robotic automation has become more commonplace across the manufacturing and engineering industries in recent years, and has been adopted by many types and sizes of businesses.

Robots were first used in industry in the early 1960s, but they have come on a long way since then. Innovations in technology mean that robotics can be used to automate a broader range of industrial systems, processes and applications.

Meanwhile, increased sales and demand have helped bring prices down to make the technology affordable for even the smallest manufacturers.

While many global players have utilised robotic automation to create huge state-of-the-art facilities,  technology has levelled the playing field for smaller businesses. Smaller operators can now access the same systems and applications as the major manufacturers, to improve their operations, save on labour, energy and maintenance costs, enhance safety and minimise risk and unscheduled downtime.

Robotic automation can have a transformative effect on production facilities of any size.

The same robotics used in high-volume/high-production environments can scale down for use in growing businesses. And thanks to advances in software and programming, they can be quickly adapted and set up for new tasks with minimal disruption.

Robotics can also help preserve – and even create – jobs in the manufacturing sector.

Previously, many manufacturers had to send jobs offshore because they couldn’t compete with low-cost foreign labour. However, robotic automation enables traditional manufacturers to compete and create more jobs in robotics programming, electrical engineering and their associated fields.

Employees with expertise in programming, engineering, data analysis, robot manufacturing and systems design and integration are all needed, which helps manufacturers reskill and redeploy staff away from repetitive, mundane or dangerous manual tasks.

Robotics engineering was once a rare and expensive specialism. Today, the subject is taught in many schools, colleges and universities, and many young people are becoming interested in technology-led manufacturing and engineering careers.

What is the future of robotics?

Robotic automation offers manufacturers more opportunities to save on costs, enhance production, and remain competitive.

It’s no secret that robots are getting smarter, aided by rapid recent advances in programming technology, artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Whereas early robots were programmed to follow the same path or rely on laser or infrared technology to detect parts and materials, the latest generation of robotics use data gathered from multiple sensors to adapt their movements and responses in real-time.

This helps to improve safety and product quality, enhances production efficiency and enables ‘predictive maintenance’, which helps minimise operational downtime and disruption.   

Advances in computing power, software, programming expertise and networking technology have also made assembling, installing, and maintaining robots faster and more affordable than ever.

Many systems can now be built and implemented using plug-and-play components connected using simple network wiring.

They can monitor themselves and report their status to a central control system to harvest data for maintenance, troubleshooting, and continuous improvement purposes.

Robotic automation can deliver a step-change to your manufacturing processes and future-proof your operations.

As Industry 4.0 applications come more to the fore, adopting this technology now will ensure your business is truly ready for when the fourth industrial revolution is in full swing.

If you’re looking for a fully automated system or want to implement a new automated section into an existing production process, we can help you achieve the improvements you’re looking for.

Our automation services include complete systems, electrical controls, robotics and conveyor controls. Whatever you do, if you want to do it better, get in touch.