Factory AutomationIIoT

What is factory automation?

Factory automation is the technology and system for automating manufacturing processes with the ultimate goal of increasing productivity and reducing costs. The level of automation can be anything from automation of a single operation to end-to-end automation without human involvement. Factory automation can be implemented at any stage of the manufacturing process, from material quantity control to production and assembly, and finally to packaging and shipping.

This article deals with the basic types of automation, the benefits of factory automation and finally the cost considerations.

Types of factory automation

The degree of automation will vary depending on the manufacturing process, budget, and a range of other criteria. Most industries have some degree of automation.

Manual/minimal automation

It may be a little automated, but by and large, the process is manual. For example, quality inspection, manual product assembly, etc. This relies on process training, expertise and human judgment.

A single automated machine

Use a single machine designed to automate a single repetitive process such as inspection, cutting and packaging. Parts can be manually inserted and positioned into the device.

Automated production line

Automated production lines typically combine material transfer on a conveyor system with a series of dedicated workstations, each designed to meet specific recommendations in the production cycle. The order is fully defined, and operator involvement depends on the degree of automation. In a fully automated production line, the operator only needs to supervise, monitor, adjust and maintain the equipment.

Fully automated (end-to-end)

The ultimate solution is an end-to-end automated factory, with no operators, that runs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. These plants may even include product self-adjustment and quality measurement.

The benefits of factory automation

Increase productivity

One of the main drivers of factory automation must be increased productivity. The potential 24/7/365 production and streamlined process benefits cannot be underestimated.

Improve the quality

Repetitive tasks that constantly monitor and adjust and reduce human error.

Improve consistency

Similar to improving quality, the repeatability of automated processes makes results more predictable and reduces any variation associated with different operators and other human factors.

Reduce waste

Reduce waste by automating production to improve planning and increase repeatability.

Safer working conditions

Automated hazardous processes and built-in shutdowns with less operator involvement lead to a safer working environment and significantly reduced risk.

Cost saving

This is the main driver, a combination of all of the above. Increased productivity, reduced downtime, reduced training costs, and the elimination of accidents significantly increase profitability after the initial outlays for system automation.

Implementation cost

The initial expenditure is usually high and the equipment used to automate the production line is very specialized and often needs to be designed and developed for a specific production line.

The design can also be costly, as it is important to develop a future-proof design that allows throughput to increase with successful implementation.

Best practices exist, and so do universal solutions. Hiring an experienced automation engineer can help control costs by designing a system that uses existing technology as much as possible.