Getting started with factory automation – what’s involved

23 October 2020
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Getting started with factory automation - what’s involved

Today’s ever-increasing competition compels businesses to produce high quality and consistent products competitively. 

To step up their game, businesses in all industries have sought out building new products by integrating manufacturing techniques with the benefits offered by automation companies. 

One approach these automation companies do is to transform manufacturing by guiding them to adopt factory automation. 

This trend has been increasing. In 2016, the use of industrial robots was at 1.83 million. Yet this figure has grown 14% annually and likely to reach 3.05 million this year.

Even the automation economy itself is projected to generate around $214 billion worldwide by 2021.

Factory automation systems have benefited businesses by increasing product quality, reliability and production rates. At the same time, it has reduced design and production costs and brought new innovative and integrated technologies. 

Post summary:

  • What is automation?
  • Why is automation used in manufacturing?
  • The case for factory automation
  • Advantages and drawbacks of factory automation

 

What is automation?

Automation helps organisations perform processes with little to no human help. 

By managing manufacturing equipment, it completes procedural tasks, increasing efficiency, quality, and effectiveness.

In its purest form, automation involves moving from one set of parameters to another by a steady state of values determined by a controller. This controller adjusts the present state to a group of desired conditions

There are three types of automation in manufacturing production: 

  1. Fixed automation
  2. Programmable automation
  3. Flexible automation

 

These types of automation involve a combination of computers integrated with other mechanical, electrical, hydraulic and pneumatic devices. 

Today, advancements in automation include both electronic and computer monitors, using high-level programming languages, all installed and set up by factory automation companies. 

 

Why is automation used in manufacturing?

Using specific data points, manufacturing automation manages warehouse machinery, tools, process systems and other actions within the manufacturing environment. 

Within manufacturing, automation is fast gaining acceptance to raise both productivity, safety and efficiency. 

Components may be diverted to different assembly paths for continued work and finishing. A programmable controller can manage this transfer faster without the possibility of human error or being at a health risk.

Industrial engineers are focussed on the future of automation in manufacturing by improving current industrial robots. It is these robots that provide for more efficient utilisation of raw materials, human resources and above all, cost and energy.

Businesses use automation so that their machines can create and shape highly accurate parts for assembling products. An example of automation would be producing car parts in an assembly line for automobile companies. 

 

The case for factory automation

Manufacturing and industry are facing uncertain times in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The advent of new-age technology has increased the urgent demand for premium quality products and services. 

Supplying premium products and services requires a high level of productivity & efficiency. 

Maintaining these high levels of productivity & efficiency can be costly.

But, if a company automates its manufacturing processes, quality levels can remain high.

Artificial intelligence, robotics, big data, digital transformation, and the internet of things are used to expand the opportunities for manufacturing automation.

After all, manufacturing factories must work within several constraints. 

These constraints range from the competition, regulation, security, quality and overall cost-effectiveness. 

A factory automation solution eases these constraints by automating many tasks with both practical and efficient solutions.

 

Advantages of factory automation technology

Increased productivity

Factory automation systems improve the production rate through better control of production.

Companies that implement factory automation products can mass-produce using fewer assembly lines and still churn out more exceptional production quality.

 

Improved product quality

Automation reduces human involvement; the likelihood of human errors gets decreased drastically. 

Better product quality with higher accuracy is maintained using factory automation systems. 

Automation controls and monitors every stage from the beginning to its completion. 

 

Optimised operational costs

Integration of various processes in the factory with automated machinery minimises cycle times and effort. 

Hence, the need for a workforce is reduced. Thus, the requirement for additional human labour is replaced by automation. 

 

Reduced routine checking

Automation eradicates the need for human manual checking of various processes. 

By utilising factory automation technology, industrial processes can be automatically adjusted to a set of determined parameters. 

 

Increased safety levels 

Factory automation raises warehouse safety levels by substituting people with automated machines in risky task conditions. 

Robots used in heavy industry and manufacturing can be installed in unsafe and hazardous places, where humans are not able to operate.

 

Increased flexibility 

Over time improved efficiencies lead to cost savings due to reduced waste, lower operational expenses, and decreased hands-on labour. 

Compared to other solutions, factory automation provides an additional level of flexibility to integrate changes to products or tasks.

 

Perceived drawbacks of factory automation

The main disadvantage often associated with factory automation and the automation economy itself; is worker displacement. 

Automation in manufacturing statistics state that by 2030 automation and artificial intelligence will cut jobs by 29% while contributing as little as 13% to job creation.

Further reports from Oxford University predict that even by 2033, 47% of current jobs will also stop to exist. Automation does not mean there will be more unemployment or fewer roles, only that humans will no longer do half of the current jobs. 

Also, the worker may have to relocate to find a similar job. Manufacturing companies with a close-knit team feel guilt at causing possible job redundancies. 

Yet, factory automation should not be seen as a job loss, yet a job creator. Companies should consider either reskilling or better, upskilling their workforce so their workforce can do less valuable monotonous work but more highly-valued contributions.

Other disadvantages on the future of factory automation include the cost required to invest in automation.

Although challenging to place a number on it, factory automation infrastructure can cost thousands to millions of euros to design, engineer and install. Because of its importance, even governments are willing to burden the cost.

Furthermore, it needs a higher level of maintenance than manually operated machines.

In reality, though, the future of factory automation technology, if used wisely, can yield substantial opportunities for a company’s future. Before being put off by the cost, companies should consider the cost-benefit scenario and the human pay-offs.

The benefits of automation relieve humans from repetitive, hazardous, and unpleasant labour. Plus, it teaches them to learn new skill sets, future-proofing their job roles, thus providing further job security.

 

Factors to consider before deciding on factory automation

If you’re considering automating your factory, be sure to consider the following:

  • The cost of labour is essential. If workers are in plentiful supply and cost significantly less than automation (maybe from developing nations with lower salaries), there could be little reason to automate. 
  • On the flip side, automation can outweigh an inexpensive wage force: higher levels of productivity, better quality and reduced human errors in product output.
  • When building machines, can they be installed in places that will not harm existing staff? Particularly machines that interact with humans. 
  • Consider concerns other than technology. Maybe you have a cheaper workforce, but automation could make their lives safer and more productive. 
  • Do you have some areas of your manufacturing factories automated already? If so, can newer and more advanced automation build on your existing infrastructure or will the entire factory automation system need overhauling? 
  • Consider what needs automating to ensure the best return on your investment. Do you need to automate other business segments or only warehouses and factories? Maybe you have one new product line that requires automation.
  • Remember that optimising automation performance is vital – with increased automation comes increased data that can be utilised to diagnose disruptions in all areas from better sales prediction to quality management. 
  • Are you open to turnkey solutions? Maybe you don’t need a new concept designed from scratch. Turnkey solutions are readily available in industrial automation and provide solutions ready to go.
  • Automation can increase flexibility – these new processes can change the way your company does business. Can your company adapt to these more advanced levels of productivity – how will this impact sales? Procurement? Partnerships? 
  • About 64 per cent of manufacturing-related tasks are currently automated with present technology. In other words, €2.3 trillion of labour costs could be eliminated.

 

Improve factory automation using manufacturing specialists

Global manufacturers know that factory automation solutions and robotics technology are pivotal for their company to remain world leaders. 

Leveraging powerful new technologies requires expertise that factory automation companies like ours build.

Many global and innovative manufacturers turn to Tech Group to put in place their factory automation infrastructure. 

Learn more about how we have transformed business fortunes using factory automation, either contact us or read our customer stories here.