Automation has been a huge hit in the industrial sector. Many companies have found that automation systems provide improved production and enable new possibilities in growing a business. Not sure what automation is, how it works, and how a company can benefit from it?
This article will hopefully give a better understanding of industrial automation and its tremendous potential to propel a business forward.
What Is Industrial Automation?
Automation is a technology that uses control systems along with specific hardware and software to perform tasks, rather than having workers do them manually. Industrial automation systems began to take shape in the Third Industrial Revolution, and many advancements have been made since then.
We’re now in what’s considered to be the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The use of information and communication technologies has led to advanced manufacturing and production processes. As these advancements have been made the variety of automation solutions has increased, and almost all industries make use of them to some degree.
Types of Industrial Automation Systems
Industrial businesses use system integrators to solve automation problems in a variety of ways. Companies have various options to help improve processes, boost productivity, and streamline operations.
Almost all of these options fall into 3 main categories.
This is the least flexible form of automation and is sometimes known as rigid or hard automation. It’s generally used for repetitive tasks to improve speed and efficiency.
A fixed automation process is generally designed with dedicated equipment to be in use for a long period. Once it’s set up it can be quite challenging to alter. These are best for processes that are consistent and stable where speed is a priority.
Fixed automation systems are often used on things like assembly lines to output large quantities of products continuously.
Also known as soft automation, this allows for more control like programmable automation. This type is sometimes preferable as it’s easy to implement changes via the control system. This way the changeovers themselves are automated, helping to save time. CNC machines are a popular example of this.
This type of automation allows for increased control, as the system can be programmed with changes as and when needed. If the system is producing batches of different products an operator can change the instructions with each batch. This makes it best for systems that produce multiple types of products.
Programmable automation is generally used for medium batch volumes. Low and high volumes can also be implemented, but only when it makes economical sense. The changeover process takes some time, so this should be factored in when looking at batch sizes.
A typical example of programmable automation is industrial robots.
Factory of The Future – Smart Factory
The factory of the future is a term now commonly used. In today’s world of customisation, having the ability to change batch sizes is not uncommon. Unlike traditional transport systems, where sequences are sequential, technologies such as Beckhoff’s Xplanar allow an infinite amount of positions and sequences, therefore, making the concept of batch sizes of one a reality. No longer does a machine have to balance all sequences to match output. This allows for cost savings by minimising hardware costs for faster processes, and by ensuring the movers on the XPlanar process products through different speeds at different stages. As an example, if a filling sequence takes 4 secs, and you need four filling heads, the inspection may only take ¼ of this, therefore, allowing inspection hardware costs to be reduced by processing the movers faster through this area.
It can therefore be argued that the factory of the future is actually happening today, and it is therefore important that the systems integrator can offer technology such as this to their clients.
How Industrial Automation Works
Modern automation systems use computing software to tell the machinery what to do. Typical systems use sensory programs and feedback loops to control operating conditions in real-time. Systems vary depending on the desired values, but they’re all generally used for the same reasons
The quality, efficiency, and capabilities of automation systems are constantly increasing. The implementation of the IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) has taken this even further to provide incredible solutions for all kinds of industries.
Benefits of Industrial Automation
Industrial automation technology is widely used around the world. It’s ideal for a range of tasks such as product assembly, additive manufacturing, inventory management, maintenance, and more.
The increased use of industrial automation is a direct result of the benefits it offers.
Automation systems can work at a much faster rate than human operators, and they can often run 24/7. This leads to a huge increase in productivity, which is ideal for large-scale production.
Automation also allows for quick, simple adjustments to the work cell. If a product needs changing this is easily done with very little downtime. It’s even sometimes possible to reprogram systems offline.
This is also a great opportunity to upskill existing staff. They can spend less time doing simple, repetitive tasks, and can carry out other, more complicated work. Staff can even be shown how to operate and reprogram automation systems, and the amount of training needed is minimal.
Hand-made products are often thought of as being better quality than machine-made products, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Automation systems are an ideal part of almost any manufacturing process as they are far less likely to experience errors than an average worker.
Whether it’s processing raw materials or assembling a final product, automation systems are ideal for repeatedly completing a process with a very low error rate.
They are precise and consistent, and perhaps more importantly they don’t fatigue in the same way employees do. Throughout the day the quality of an individual’s work may decrease, but this isn’t a concern with automation systems.
Automation systems allow for data collection that’s simply not possible from human employees. Automation software can collect accurate, detailed data about processes and workers can analyse this to make informed decisions. This can help with decision making about adjustments at the right time to reduce waste and maximise productivity.
In industrial settings, there are often numerous health and safety hazards. This can be from many things:
- Use of chemicals
- Working in elevated temperatures
- Heavy lifting
- Repetitive motions
Having automated machinery perform these tasks will help improve operator safety, which is a priority for any business.
To implement an automation system within a business there will be an initial cost for the equipment and software. Within time, however, the system will recoup this cost and continue to generate savings.
Once it’s up and running the cost of automation is cheaper than for the employees that would have been doing the same work. As they can now take care of more important tasks, workers will then be helping to produce increased profits.
The only expenses will typically be regular maintenance and energy bills. Maintenance for automation solutions is generally very low. With the boost to productivity, automation systems are usually very cost-efficient.
The speed of automation systems is great for mass production as products can be put out much faster. Reduced lead times are always a benefit.
This also means that as a company grows it will be easier to keep production in house rather than having to outsource to another company.
Why SP Automation and Robotics?
SP Automation and Robotics have been supplying automation systems since 1984, making us a leader in the industry. Our solutions can be fully customized to fit the needs of any business.
We’ve previously provided systems for a range of industries including:
- Food and Drink
Our experts can help determine the right system to ensure the best results. We maintain full control of our projects from start to finish and will assist with any training and after-sales support needed.
We’re based in the UK but have grown into a global company, so we can provide solutions to companies located anywhere. Our capabilities cover everything a business could need.
Build to Print
By removing the design stage we can simplify the process to a degree. We can build a system based on approved drawings when the capacity to build in-house is limited.
Without a solid plan, projects won’t run smoothly. Our years of experience mean we have a very refined system for planning and tracking all of our projects.
Our designers use AutoCAD Inventor® and Solid Works® to design systems based on original concepts. They’ll work closely with the project manager to make sure everything meets specifications.
We manufacture almost everything in-house to maintain full control and a high-quality standard. The only thing we outsource is fabrications, and for this, we have a small network of trusted local companies.
All automation solutions rely on a control system, and we work to make sure these are always correct for any job. We tailor-make these for each project so that every company gets exactly what they need.
Software, Design, and Development
The software is what establishes a connection with the mechanical parts of an automation solution, and our team of software engineers have years of experience in developing this software. We can program over various platforms including Mistubishi, Siemens, Omron, and more.
By developing this software in-house we can ensure it works seamlessly with our automation systems, and any adjustments are easily handled.
System Build and Commissioning
The machine builder will be in communication with the project team throughout the whole process. A build file stores all information for a project to ensure the build team has correct and up-to-date information.
Clients can visit, and even bring their own personnel throughout the build phase so that they can give input on any changes they’d like.
The Future of Industrial Automation
Industrial automation systems have grown significantly in popularity in recent years and will continue to do so. The benefits they provide are very worthwhile, and as more advancements are made they become more efficient, accurate, capable, and cost-effective.
For any questions regarding industrial automation or to arrange a visit click here to contact us today.
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