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The Rise of Automation in Manufacturing

Manufacturing operations across the globe have experienced a great deal of turbulence in recent years.

From disruptions to production lines and supply chains brought about by both the pandemic and geopolitical disturbances, to an increased focus on sustainable practices intended to reduce energy consumption and make more appropriate use of finite resources.

In an effort to address these pressures, organizations around the world are working to find actionable ways to improve productivity without incurring avoidable expenses.

The answer, it would seem, likely lies in the development of intelligently automated manufacturing systems.

Recently published data reveals that automation could raise global productivity by as much as 1.5 percent annually, potentially contributing to an additional $4.9 billion being injected into the global economy per year by 2030.

With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that 76 percent of manufacturers currently use automated tools to improve productivity and facilitate growth.

To fully understand such developments, let’s explore the rise of automation in manufacturing.

What is automation in manufacturing?

Automation in manufacturing is a term used to describe any software or hardware systems that can be programmed to perform specific tasks with little to no human involvement.

The objective being to improve productivity and efficiency while removing the risk of human error.

Automated manufacturing systems are commonly used to perform repetitive processes on production lines, but can also be deployed to manage internal software solutions including inventory management and resource allocation tools, improving site-wide efficiency metrics.

At present, it’s estimated that around 3.5 million industrial robots are in operation across the globe, with over 310,000 installed in US manufacturing facilities.

Comparatively, the market for automated inventory management software is expected to rise at a rate of almost 10 percent by 2027, illustrating the rise of automation in manufacturing across both hardware and software.

Types of automation in manufacturing

There are numerous ways that automation can be applied to key manufacturing processes, with organizations able to adapt a variety of solutions to suit unique use cases.

To simplify things, most examples of automation in manufacturing will fall into one of 5 core categories:

  1. Fixed automation – Systems programmed to perform a fixed task that can’t be easily reprogrammed at will, these devices are typically used to perform repetitive tasks on high-volume production lines including actions like tooling, assembly and packaging
  2. Programmable automation – Adaptable systems used to produce items in batches, enabling production managers to adjust settings during downtime to accommodate changes made to product specifications and variations in the types of items produced
  3. Flexible automation – Controlled by computer systems allowing teams to adjust settings remotely at any time without the need for any equipment to be powered down, meaning production will not need to be limited to small quantity batches
  4. Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)IIoT systems use a network of smart sensors to communicate with production equipment in real-time over a secure internet connection, AI tools are also used to adjust systems in line with specific criteria
  5. Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM) – CIM installations are fully automated production lines in which every aspect of the manufacturing process is controlled by automated machines, including management, production and fulfillment systems
    Key benefits of automation in manufacturing

By developing automated systems for both small and large-scale manufacturing facilities, business owners can boost productivity, reduce costs and improve the overall efficiency of repeatable processes.

While there are almost countless ways that organizations can utilize automated manufacturing tools to reveal unique benefits, here are a few common examples.

Productivity monitoring

Automated systems can be used to continually monitor key processes to ensure operations are running as efficiently as possible, for example, systems can be programmed to monitor Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE).

Provided teams know how to calculate OEE, data can be sent to automated systems for analysis, highlighting improvements that can be made.

According to one report published in 2017, if only 64 percent of manufacturing tasks such as this were entirely automated, almost 750 billion working hours could be saved on a global scale.

Data analysis

Data related to entire production lines can be analyzed in real-time by automated systems, with tools programmed to identify potential bottlenecks and suggest actionable solutions.

Information can be compiled into easily digestible reports for human teams to address, simplifying multi-faceted management procedures to reduce downtime and boost efficiency.

Forecasting and planning

Live supply chain and resource availability data can be continually monitored by automated systems, enabling manufacturers to quickly adjust production lines in response to changing market conditions.

Teams can accurately forecast demand patterns to ensure stock levels are always satisfactory, and realistic delivery expectations can be communicated to clients.

Cost-efficiency

Workflow automation in manufacturing can help organizations reduce costs by removing the risks associated with human error and minimizing resource waste.

By automating repetitive tasks, manufacturers can also reduce labor costs, enabling human staff to focus on complex issues. 70 percent of workers think this will create better opportunities for progression in their roles.

Summary

Just like many other important sectors, the manufacturing industry is being transformed by recent technological advancements in the fields of automation, robotics and AI.

Automation in manufacturing enables organizations to improve productivity, reduce downtime, minimize costs and avoid the repercussions of human error, helping to optimize global supply chains.

With 67 percent of manufacturers reportedly accelerating production automation adoption plans at present, the rise of automation in manufacturing looks set to continue improving the industry.

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