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Automation in manufacturing: What you need to know

The global industrial automation market is projected to be worth $200 billion.

Thanks to technological advancements, it has seen many improvements in recent years and one of the sectors that have greatly benefited from this is the manufacturing industry.

That’s mainly because manufacturers may gain greater control of their operations by increasing production capacity or reducing costs through automating their production processes, master production schedule (MPS), or systems.

What Is automation in manufacturing?
Manufacturing automation refers to the use of technologies such as equipment and software to automate production processes. Whereas it may seem like a novel concept, that’s not an accurate assessment. There’s evidence of simple attempts to automate tasks throughout history.

What are the types of manufacturing automation?
The manufacturing process is highly diverse. As such, there are different types of manufacturing automation to cater to different aspects. These include:

1. Fixed Automation
Fixed automation is also known as hard automation. It’s generally a system where manufacturing automation is set to produce a single product and within individual machines. Fixed automation is used for producing large quantities and has a high barrier of entry.

Hard automation brings together many sequences and production operations. As such, once the machine is in place, switching production styles is extremely challenging. More so, if you account for the high initial investment necessary for designing and engineering it.

Examples of fixed automation include:

  • Chemical manufacturing processes
  • Assembly lines
  • Material conveyor systems

2. Programmable Automation
As the name suggests, programmable automation is a production system that relies on a program to govern it. The program serves as a set of instructions that the system reads, interprets, and then executes.

A key feature of programmable automation is that it has the capacity to change. It can accommodate different product configurations or use a different sequence. You can also input a new program to produce other products. Programmable automation is suitable for batch production.

Examples of programmable automation include:

  • Industrial robots
  • Numerically controlled (NC) machine tools
  • Programmable logic controllers

3. Flexible Automation
In some ways, flexible automation is similar to programmable automation. Its design allows it to respond to production changes quickly, such as product quantity. To run, personnel program computerized systems to control the machines. Alternatively, they can use Human Machine Interfaces (HMIs).

In this setup, a central computer system controls production and material-handling systems. Thus, flexible automation is suitable for batch production. Moreover, it’s a great option if you want to produce different product types simultaneously.

Examples of flexible automation include:

  • Assembly lines
  • Robotics
  • Material handling systems

Benefits of automation in manufacturing
Automation in manufacturing is becoming more of a necessity than a luxury. Leveraging the benefits that it offers will give you a significant competitive advantage. Some of these benefits include:

1. Lower operating costs
Although automation may require a significant initial investment, it offers great value for money in the long run. Depending on the task, one machine can perform the work of three to five, possibly more people.

2. Increased workplace safety
Without a viable option in the past, some manufacturing processes involve staff working in dangerous conditions. With automation, you can remove workers far from hazardous processes or substances.

3. Increased productivity
In addition to working unattended 24/7, machines can also maintain the same speed throughout. This means your production process can continue longer and more efficiently. As a result, you can produce more or work on new products without disrupting production.

4. Better product quality
Generally, machines can perform manufacturing tasks with greater accuracy than people. Moreover, they also maintain the same production quality throughout. With increased conformity and uniformity, you’ll have a lower fraction defect rate.

What does the future hold for manufacturing automation?
Despite the leaps in manufacturing automation, there is much more yet to come. As automation integrates with artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotics, processes will become more efficient.

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