Industrial automation is a broad term that covers the increasingly important role technology plays in creating the manufacturing and engineering processes of the future.
Manufacturers are having to respond to ever-increasing pressures on several fronts, from labour supply and supply chain consolidation to optimising the balance between quality and cost.
The future lies in the widespread adoption of industrial automation techniques to help create the factories of tomorrow.
Although industrial automation has been around for many years, more and more businesses are adopting technologies and innovations that automate repetitive tasks in a production-based setting, with or without the interaction of an operator.
The technology to make this happen is now more available and affordable than ever before. When combined with powerful data analytics and the insight this provides, manufacturers can integrate automation solutions seamlessly into their industrial processes to help reduce costs, improve efficiency, enhance safety and boost productivity.
Here, we take a closer look at how industrial automation is changing the face of production processes all over the world.
Understanding Industry 4.0
Modern industrial automation is closely aligned with Industry 4.0, which is seen by many as the future of manufacturing.
Industry 4.0 is helping to advance the way production systems are run and streamlining maintenance processes.
It provides the ability to interconnect traditional systems with new technology to enable the management and diagnosis of entire production processes.
Innovations in robotics and software enable production systems to be completely automated, while real-time monitoring provides data and insights that can be used to drive incremental improvements in quality and maintenance.
This can help manufacturers achieve the following benefits:
- Enhanced productivity and competitiveness
- Maximised production output and workflow
- Reductions in system failure and downtime
- Improved health & safety
- Improvements to – and adaptations of – products already on the market
- Greater flexibility and customisation of processes
- More control over manufacturing parameters
Types of industrial automation
One of the major benefits of industrial automation is how flexible it can be.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. Instead, with such a vast array of software, technologies and hardware available, an automation solution can be built around your exact requirements to deliver the production outcomes you’re looking for. However, most industrial automation solutions fall into three broad categories:
Fixed or hard automation
Hard automation systems are usually designed to perform fixed and repetitive operations to achieve higher output rates.
They use dedicated or purpose-built equipment to automate each stage in a sequence of production or assembly operations.
While fixed automation systems are extremely effective in increasing production output, it can be difficult to significantly vary or change the product design. So, they are best suited for manufacturing products that won’t need to change much over time.
Programmable automation systems are similar to fixed systems in the way they automate each stage of a production process to achieve higher output, but they offer far more flexibility in terms of changing the assembly or production options.
The sequence of operations in a programmable automation system can be changed or reconfigured for different products, making them perfect for medium-to-high volume batch production processes.
Flexible or soft automation
This type of system offers a huge degree of flexibility, making it most suitable for production processes that require many changes to the product design.
They make greater use of programming and software and can be adapted quickly to produce small batches of multiple products with different ranges.
Advantages of industrial automation
Adopting industrial automation into your manufacturing processes has several advantages, including:
Industrial automation allows greater production continuity. Predictive maintenance means you can schedule downtime and maximise your hours of operation to enhance your productivity and competitiveness.
Intelligent visualisation and control processes allow you to keep a close eye on the quality of the finished product and make small changes, where necessary, to drive continuous improvements in quality.
Industrial automation allows increased flexibility across your production lines. New products or changes can be implemented faster and more efficiently to help you maximise your production capacity.
Industrial automation can significantly reduce your operating costs across a range of key metrics, from waste reduction and quality improvement to increases in production capacity and productivity.
Real-time monitoring can be built into automated processes to collect a vast amount of data about the performance of your equipment and processes.
This insight can be used to make tweaks and improvements to processes, predict system breakdowns and maintenance needs and improve the efficiency and service life of each individual part of the production process.
Industrial automation can help create safer production processes by removing the need for human interaction with potentially hazardous areas, equipment or machinery.
Unleash your full potential with industrial automation
Industrial automation can deliver a step change to your manufacturing processes and futureproof your operations as Industry 4.0 applications come more to the fore.
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.