There has been a high demand over the years to drive greater throughput and minimize manufacturing costs and therefore manufacturing companies have been looking towards automation and Industry 4.0 solutions to increase their productivity.

In this article, we have decided to showcase different uses of automation in manufacturing and present you with examples, as well as benefits of automating your production line.

What is Automation in the Manufacturing Sector?

In the manufacturing sector, manufacturing is the use of machinery to automate systems or production operations. The main objective is to increase efficiency and quality and reduce costs involved.

Automation has in some cases received a bad reputation as it has become known more as using machines to reduce human intervention. Many people imagine electromechanical systems that are programmed to carry out various tasks. Automation may not be the correct choice for every manufacturer, but most companies can find advantages in one of the following types of automation: Fixed, programmed, or flexible.

Fixed Automation

Fixed Automation is generally thought of as a massive volume production setup, where the programme has a set task and there are minimal changes within a big manufacturing output. Also known as hard automation, most programming is restrained to a few machines and the speed and the progression of actions is set by the equipment or production line.

An example of fixed automation can be found in an automotive shop, where they produce over a million parts before changing designs.

The only challenge with fixed automation is that when a change needs to be made, the manufacturer generally has to shut down an entire line to change tooling, which ends up in down time and can be costly. This is why this type of automation only makes sense for large volume productions. If you have low volume products with a shortened life cycle, programmable automation is more apt.

Programmable Automation

Another description for programmable automation is also termed batch production, which is generally the manufacturing of several thousands of units.

Programmable automation is more flexible than hard automation and allows for more changes in products or parts being manufactured, but still needs downtime to make changes, which are still costly. Although the downtime is taken into consideration it has still caused challenges and has led to an advancement in programmable automation which is called flexible automation.

Flexible Automation

Flexible automation can perform automatic changeovers. This may require additional machines or devices to make these changes possible, however the value offering is much greater in many instances these machines are linked to a network and can therefore be monitored remotely and even controlled. This means that an operator or designer could run new programs from anywhere in the world. This gives the manufacturer a lot of control over the production process, as everything is visible and able to be managed with a software programme.

Benefits of Automation in Manufacturing

Manufacturers are increasingly using automation to drive precision, consistency, and greater operational efficiency. You need to have a clear vision of where you want to be in terms of your production output.  The more specific your objective is, the easier it is to align with a solution. Goals such as wanting to increase your production output, means that you need to know what changes you need to make, for this to be put into effect. Software that monitors equipment and produces accurate data and graphics, can be costly at first but will ultimately get you your desired outcome and grow your business. There are a few other great advantages to this type of setup:

Reduced downtime, providing predictable maintenance and improving on decision making.

Being able to monitor the use of materials with an inventory programme or at a specific workstation can reduce downtime drastically, as you avoid running out of stock. Also being able to see the running times of specific equipment can dramatically improve on optimized workflow, as you are able to make adjustments and changes and evaluate your output more effectively. This clever system can also assist you in making future automation investments.

Monitoring your machinery and equipment can also help in forecasting future breakdowns or service needs and avoid unplanned downtime and breakdowns, that further cut into your bottom-line. General monitoring of systems greatly affects informed business decisions.

When you have real-time data, you can more accurately plan output and lead times, which leads to happier customers with more accurate delivery times. Additionally, your automated machinery can boost quality and lower variability in the manufacturing process.

The future of automation in manufacturing is progressing with robotics, machine vision, IIoT, and other digital technologies. To be able to fully benefit from the expansion of  automation have clear knowledge of where you want your company’s future at and work with software and automation suppliers that offer good service.

Getting Started with Automation

You require software that will connect your machines so that you have the ability to collect data, process it, and make decisions. This then will provide you with the insight into your operation across both your equipment and staff and will further automate processes and drive greater efficiency across the shop floor.