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Ensuring a Competitive Edge in Manufacturing with Industrial Automation Engineering
Most production line machinery in the late 1970s was mechanically operated. With the advent of computers, the manufacturing industry became more and more computerized in the decades that followed. But there were still risks, heavy costs in maintenance and injuries to the workers.
Another industrial revolution is now taking place – the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT), big data, and machine-to-machine communication (M2M). Computer intelligence with automation has revolutionized the Manufacturing industry giving them that competitive edge in business alongside other domains.
Fundamentals of Industrial Automation Engineering
What is Industrial automation engineering?
Industrial automation engineering involves the use and process of computers and other devices that talk to each other and implementing automated systems to control the machines. To put it succinctly, it is where the digital and mechanical components merge in an industrial environment.
In recent times, many industrial tasks performed by humans are now automated thus streamlining the process and making the manufacturing process more efficient and cost-effective.
A recent report outlines that industrial automation will rise to $395.09 billion by the year 2029.
Nevertheless, before diving into automation manufacturers need to carefully consider their business needs and what suits their processes and systems.
To proceed, industrial entrepreneurs need to understand the 4 main types of industrial automation systems: Fixed automation, Programmable automation, Flexible Automation and Integrated Automation.
1. Fixed automation
A fixed automation is designed to complete a single process or task. This is designed to suit highly repetitive tasks that are well-defined by nature. Fixed automation is beneficial for use in manufacturing environments where the equipment is fixed with a specific set of functions. These functions are rarely modified thereby maximizing the capacity of the fixed automation process.
The downside of putting this into process involves the redesign and rebuilding of the entire system. This would include changes in the production process, designing and investing in new components or raw materials. The drawbacks point to a time-consuming process, and complications that could arise when troubleshooting the modified equipment.
2. Programmable automation
In programmable automation, the components are controlled by entering a computer code. These components can thus be enabled to perform multiple functions and can thus be customized as per the product requirement.
The best use case of this type of automation is the packaging industry and material handling applications.
The downside here is that given the quick-changing tasks that programmable automation can perform, reliability and maintenance can be risky and costly in the long run.
3. Flexible automation
As the name states, Flexible automation combines the positive attributes of fixed automation, consistency and exactness, and the customizable adaptability of programmable automation. Often flexible automation is seen as an extension of programmable automation
To get a picture of how flexible automation performs, imagine a robot arm that can be programmed to do various tasks in an assembly line.
When compared to programmable automation, flexible automation allows for higher production numbers and less downtime and can be adjusted for different kinds and levels of complexity.
4. Integrated automation
When the entire manufacturing system incorporates the computer-controlled, digitally processed, and the coordinated system as a whole – it is known as Integrated automation.
Simply stated, Integrated automation combines two or more types and provides a custom solution. The result is to make efficient the tools, processes, and systems to accomplish with the least human effort and thereby maximize optimization.
Integrated automation is very beneficial where a multitude of processes need coordination which includes the operation of machines by computer codes and minimising operators to thus improve productivity.
What benefits can Industrial automation engineering bring to the manufacturing business?
Efficiency and productivity are the two keywords when it comes to Industrial automation engineering. Below are listed some salient features of why Industrial automation is worth investing in, but with due diligence.
Increased Efficiency: By engaging with robots to do certain repetitive tasks, manufacturers free up human resources and put them to handle more focused and critical jobs. This leads to a more skilled and effective workforce and a productivity boost.
Reduced Costs: Every organization’s bottom line is to ensure profitable Returns Over Investments (ROIs). A one-time heavy investment in Artificial Intelligence (AI), robots, and computer-aided technologies can lower production and labor costs in the long run. Automated mechanical jobs lower human errors and require lower maintenance in the time to come. This leads to a reduction in repetitive costs thus bringing better ROIs in the future.
Minimal Errors: Some tasks can be impossible for humans to do without committing errors. For example, welding, packaging, or any assembly line work requires the speed and precision that humans can lack. Automation can reduce and control errors boosting productivity and saving time.
Maximizing safety at the workplace: especially in the manufacturing industry, hazards at the workplace can be innumerable to control. With automation, a reduced workforce of operators leads to reduced workplace mishaps.
When automation is introduced at a manufacturing workplace, much can be accomplished when it comes to the safety and health of the worker. This in turns leads to reduced insurance expenses, a better and highly skilled workforce, and easy-to-maintain safety standards.
Ways to Maximize returns from Industrial Automation Engineering
To automate the processes at your workplace, strategizing the process of automation certain factors should be taken into consideration. Here are a few pointers that can help
1.Be clear about the objectives: To develop an effective and efficient solution, the goals and objectives should be clear. Knowing what the problems are currently and researching the best ways to alleviate them using the correct technology is very crucial when planning the automation of your manufacturing plant. Every process and system should be researched with the help of an industrial automation engineer. Ensure getting a detailed report of how the present system is impacting your business, and where and how automation can solve those inefficiencies.
2.Assessing how and where automation is crucial: Company’s profitability, ensuring high standards of health and safety, meeting all compliances, rising labour costs etc, are some basic areas that need to be assessed by the automation engineer. Just replacing humans with robots does not mean that safety compliances can be forgotten. Different sets of rules may mean more investing, and will the one-time investment and maintenance help address compliance issues without causing a dent in the pocket?
3.Technology that meets the Requirements: Different technologies are available for handling different segments of the process and systems in a manufacturing plant. Choosing the right technology that suits your requirements is of prime importance. Is it available easily in the market or does it need customization, does it fit the budget allocated, etc., are some of the points that should be noted when shifting to new technology and its repercussions.
4.Strategizing the Implementation: This is the most critical and important part to ensure seamless integration of the automation technology into your systems and processes. It is essential that you get the right team of experts who can guide and leverage the optimization of the technology being adopted into the organization to maximize the ROIs.
For the best results to decrease costs and optimize profits when putting into place automation engineering, an experienced team of automation experts is very vital to the success of your organization.