An overview of industrial automation and how it benefits business

An overview of industrial automation and how it benefits business
Let's take a look at industrial automation and its benefits for the modern business. Photo: Phonlamaiphoto, Bigstock

Industries that develop goods on a massive level have always faced control and quality issues especially when everything was handled by human workers. However, with the dawn of industrial automation, factories haven’t just been able to eliminate the human error factor but have also increased efficiency and quality of products.

The use of robotics and automation is not new; in fact, their use can be traced back to the 1970s when industries first began to explore the possibilities of automation. Though workshops did require a human workforce along with automation back then, today’s enterprises function mostly on these machines and equipment.

According to the Robotic Industries Association, 2016 was a record-breaking year for North American Robot orders because they went up to 61% in assembly application and food and consumer goods orders increased by 32%. Moreover, predictions show that the number of industrial automation and robots deployed worldwide is expected to go up to 2.6 million units by 2019.

These statistics show that although 70% industrial automation equipment is working in the automotive, machinery, or electrical industry, its circle of use is set to spread as the technology matures and becomes more sophisticated.

If you walk into a manufacturing plant, the first thing you’ll see is machines working on dedicated tasks. In fact, these robots don’t just help with the manufacturing process, but also assist in monitoring and control.

Unlike humans who are guaranteed to make mistakes no matter how many times they repeat the task, machines can do things over and over again without fail. Another benefit of industrial automation is that it allows for a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition or SCADA system to detect issues in the workflow and notifies concerned employees before anything goes wrong.

Benefits of industrial automation

An overview of industrial automation and how it benefits business
Product line automation with robotic technology has a wide array of benefits for business. Photo: Kenny001, Bigstock

Though everyone knows that industrial automation helps in increasing productivity and reducing costs, most people don’t know the other ways in which it aids industries and their work processes. The following are some of the most apparent benefits of automation.

Increases productivity

Robots and automated machines don’t get tired and don’t need breaks. This means that when you use automation, you increase the revenue by producing a higher number of products as compared to those that were developed by your human employees.

Reduces the need for manual checking

When some critical products are made, periodic and manual verification becomes mandatory so any errors can be eliminated. However, with automation, industries no longer need to doubt the quality, and this reduces the need for periodic or manual checking. As long as the equipment is in top condition and running efficiently, you won’t have anything to worry about.

Improves product quality

The reason why you won’t need to run periodic checks is that robots help in enhancing the quality of your products. When you use real-time hardware automation for your work processes, you can guarantee uniform product quality and reliability. Moreover, when you improve product quality, you also heighten your brand’s reputation and bring in loyalty from customers.

Reduces risks and increases safety

One of the major setbacks of having humans operating big and dangerous machinery is that they are accidents waiting to happen. According to the United States Department of Labor, 5,190 workers were killed on the job in the year 2016.

Although these stats are scary, the truth is that automation has reduced the risk by many folds. The position of humans as the operator has now been changed to a supervisory role so that he can monitor and check rather than do.

Reduces production costs

Yes, big automation systems and machinery does take out a rather large chunk of your earnings, but that doesn’t compare to the costs you lose without these robots. Because automatic machines reduce the need for human intervention, you don’t have to invest in labor costs and the other expenses that come attached to it.

Increases simplicity

Even though a human workforce is always necessary no matter how integrated industrial automation systems are, you should remember that these robots increase flexibility. The equipment you use make processes simpler and easier to handle, so there is no complexity in the environment and its functions.

Types of automation

Depending on the function and how deeply the automation is embedded into the system, there are four classifications of the types of industrial automation.

  • Fixed automation: This type of automation has a fixed role in the system and can only do dedicated functions. These machines are usually used in assembly lines, machine transfer lines and other positions where flexibility isn’t required.
  • Programmable automation: As the name suggests, programmable automation can be programmed according to the need. Operations can be altered using configurations, and new data and programs can be entered when new products or functions are required.
  • Flexible automation: Much like programmable automation, this type of machinery also offers flexibility so manufacturers can deal with product design changes. Operators can give commands to the automated machines and change the process altogether if necessary.
  • Integrated automation: This type of automation is fully integrated into the system and is under computer control. Each proves from designing to dispatching is fully automated, and there is little or no need for human interaction.

According to an intriguing article, the future of industrial automation lies in tools that will allow factories to create and test scenarios in the virtual world and stimulate the design and assembly line process before the product is built. Things like augmented reality and 3D printing are already starting to make waves, and it’s not long before they are integrated into automation as well.