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Utilizing Automation in Manufacturing Processes: The Future Is Here

Production Management, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)
March 15, 2022

Driven by the rapid growth of technology, automation in manufacturing processes has significantly evolved over the years. Where traditional manufacturing was once utterly manual, more and more manual functions were reinvented with automated production. This included innovation in conveyance, limit switches, and eventually programmable logic controllers.

Today, automation is poised for even faster growth as technology increases manufacturing’s production ability with greater efficiency. It’s estimated that the CAGR of industrial automation will grow by 7.2% and reach an investment level of $287.9 billion by 2026.

The Three Types of Automation

The automation process will vary depending on the goods being manufactured and the equipment being used. Regardless of the type of automation, manufacturers will experience strong benefits.

These three types of automation include:

1. Fixed Automation

Fixed automation is also known as “process manufacturing.” Long runs of yarn, food ingredients, plastic molding, and other products are produced in high volume. Automation may take over the monitoring of spindle speed, temperature, humidity, and other variables required to keep the product run in spec.

2. Programmable Automation

Here, computer programs monitor the machine and run it to specific parameters. The program acts as an instruction to trigger parts of the machine to perform particular tasks. This type of automation is suitable for batch or discrete manufacturing and can be seen in high-volume food operations, CNC machining, or robotic automotive assembly lines.

3. Flexible Automation

Flexible automation is ideal for many batches or discrete operations. It can control the material-handling systems for a fully automated assembly line or robotic assembly process.

How Is Automation Designed?

Automation is designed and added to equipment by professionals in the field of Manufacturing Process and Automation Engineering. Those in this specialty work for OEMs to place automation systems and software into original equipment. They may also design the linking systems for upstream and downstream equipment for hardware and software.

Regardless of the type of automation used, manufacturing processes and automation engineers are constantly adding new capabilities. This is especially true with the arrival of Industry 4.0 technologies such as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

Early IIoT relied on analog and wired devices that were added to the equipment. As adoption of these technologies has accelerated, OEMs include devices embedded within new equipment to facilitate smart manufacturing connectivity to link the power of automation with the even more remarkable power of advanced analytics.

Robotic Process Automation - Little Robots Everywhere

Robots are cool. Everyone has seen giant arms racing to build a piece of equipment like a car or a plane, but that’s only part of the definition of a robot. Every manufacturer has numerous repetitive tasks. Many of these tasks related to production and administration throughout the enterprise (purchasing, planning, and inventory control) can be automated.

Robotic process automation consists of software robots that can be used for many of these repetitive processes such as invoicing, inventory monitoring, data migration, and BOM. The task must be rule-based, but chances are, a cool invisible robot can automate it. Here are a few common use cases for RPA:

  • Supply Chain Management – RPA can extract and convert data and add it to a standard format for purchasing tasks such as invoices. It can also reconcile invoices to PO and even update ERP records.
  • Bill of Materials (BOM) – BOMs are critical in any manufacturing environment. In highly complex production, RPA can identify and duplicate BOMs for comparable iterative products. It may also be used to identify engineering change document elements and update the system accordingly.
  • Data Management – For companies that use advanced factory monitoring systems, RPA can cleanse data, conduct imports, process unstructured data, and update structured data in enterprise software.
  • Inventory – Inventory management software, as a standalone or part of SCM or MRP systems, is a hallmark of manufacturing. RPAs can be programmed to update inventory records, generate reports, track transactions, and monitor inventory levels.

Integrating OEM Automation with a Smart Manufacturing Platform

Automation makes manufacturing more efficient and reduces costs. But with equipment filling a production floor, why not link it with a smart manufacturing platform to supercharge your robots, large and small? Plex gives you a way to do this seamlessly and with extremely high accuracy.

Imagine automating workflows, tracking all transactions, and analyzing the insights and outputs in real time. Not only are materials tracked throughout production, as you put your automation to work, but quality and processes can also be improved to increase efficiency and lower cost.

Read more about using manufacturing automation to take control of your plant floor here.

About the Author

Plex Team

Plex Systems, Inc., a Rockwell Automation company, is the leader in cloud-delivered smart manufacturing solutions, empowering the world’s manufacturers to make awesome products. Our platform gives manufacturers the ability to connect, automate, track and analyze every aspect of their business to drive transformation. The Plex Smart Manufacturing Platform includes solutions for manufacturing execution (MES), ERP, quality, supply chain planning and management, Industrial IoT and analytics to connect people, systems, machines, and supply chains, enabling them to lead with precision, efficiency and agility.