What is Industrial Automation?
In today’s factories and shop floors, industrial automation is everywhere and it is difficult to imagine a production line without automation. Industrial automation uses control systems and equipment, such as computer software and robots, to perform tasks that were historically done manually. These systems operate industrial equipment automatically, significantly reducing the level of operator involvement and oversight required. Automation systems typically consist of feedback loops and sensory programs that automatically adjust operating conditions to meet the desired values based on real-time data. The technologies used in industrial automation have advanced significantly in recent years due to digitalization of manufacturing, especially with the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) – opening up more and more opportunities for companies to take advantage of automation solutions.
There are many benefits to industrial automation such as:
- Improved quality: automated work cells are typically less variable and less prone to error when compared to human operators. The precision provided by industrial automation results in higher consistency and reproducibility along the manufacturing process – ultimately providing higher quality products.
- Higher efficiency and throughput: robots can operate 24 hours a day and 7 days a week – and simply work faster than human operators. This additional work time elevates efficiency and results in higher throughput from the work cell. Additionally, industrial automation provides flexibility to adjust the work cell. For example, if the work cell needs to be optimized or modifications made for a new product, the automated system can be reprogrammed offline, oftentimes with little to no downtime, and minimal to no operator training required.
- Lower costs: utilizing robots is simply less expensive than human operators. Once the initial cost of a robot is paid, the only costs are maintenance and the energy required during operation. Over time, the cost savings is significant when compared to operator salaries and benefits. Additionally, robots optimize the process and improve quality, resulting in less waste – providing even further cost savings.
- Improved Speed to Market: industrial automation provides a more efficient production line that reduces product lead times and, in some cases, makes a strong case for keeping production in-house instead of outsourcing.
- Better Safety: improved operator safety is one of the biggest advantages of industrial automation as operators no longer need to perform hazardous tasks such as working with dangerous chemicals, picking up heavy objects, working in poor conditions such as elevated temperatures, and performing tasks with repetitive motion. Operators are safer when these types of tasks are performed by robots and other automation solutions.
Types of Industrial Automation
Industrial automation is currently employed across a myriad of industries with automated systems doing everything from performing manufacturing tasks to operating an ATM. The level of complexity and human interaction with an automated system varies by application. While there are countless applications of industrial automation solutions, nearly all fall into 1 of 3 automation categories: fixed, programmable, and flexible. Below is a little more about each of these types of industrial automation.
Fixed: this type of automation is also referred to as rigid or hard automation. As the names imply, this form of automation is the least flexible and is often used to execute repetitive tasks with dedicated equipment in order to improve production efficiency and through-put rates. Once a fixed automation solution is setup, it is challenging to modify the process or reconfigure the equipment. Fixed automation solutions are good options for production that is consistent and stable over time and has high volume through-puts. Examples of fixed automation are assembly lines in the automotive industry.
Programmable: this type of automation is best for batches of products where the instructions for the automated system change over time depending on which product is being manufactured. The control program can be reprogrammed for each batch with the given specifications and the necessary processing tasks and sequencing. This changeover process takes time as in most cases the equipment must also be reconfigured from batch to batch. Programmable automation is often used for medium volumes but can also be used for low or high volumes when economics are justified. Industrial robots are an example of programmable automation.
Flexible: this system is often referred to as soft automation. It is similar to programmable automation in that it provides flexibility for product changeovers. The big advantage of flexible automation is that the product changeovers are conveyed via the control system and occur quickly and automatically – eliminating the time required to reconfigure the equipment in between batches. CNC machines are an example of flexible automation.
Concept Systems is 100% committed to maintaining current, state-of-the art equipment that allow customers to achieve competitive manufacturing today and tomorrow. With the technologies available, there are countless robotic and machine vision applications that can help you address your business challenges. From basic picking and sorting to enhanced vision inspection, from custom built end of arm tooling to complete work cell design and integration, our team of expert engineers design and integrate solutions that enhance the efficiency and profitability of your operations.
We’ll dive into your manufacturing process and build a smart, precisely tailored automation solution – effectively integrating metrology and automation solutions to improve throughput and elevate quality. Leverage the advances in technology to improve your manufacturing – contact us today!