Industrial automation is one of the most impressive examples of the evolution of technology. In the thick of what’s called the Information Age, industries are utilizing robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), and machines to facilitate mass production more than ever before. In fact, 64 percent of manufacturing working hours are done automatically.
But what exactly does that mean?
With the earth’s population hovering near 8 billion, manufacturers need high-level systems to keep up with the supply and demand of everyday products. They require reliable, advanced methods that can perform the ongoing tasks of heavy industry in a fraction of the time. With that, more industries are adapting to automation: a combination of machines, computers, and operators working together to perform complex processes.
What is Industrial Automation?
Automation has an old history in the world. In the mid-eighteenth century, large-scaled factories began to utilize machine manufacturing to operate at faster rates. This major transition to new manufacturing processes was the start of the Industrial Revolution, which revolutionized the way consumers shopped and manufacturers supplied the product.
Caption: Spinning machine models from 1867, which aided in the transition from manual to automated labor
Today, industrial automation is commonly used in commercial manufacturing settings, hence its name. In industrial factories, several control systems and appliances work together to perform tasks automatically and simultaneously. Almost all manufacturers use a form of automation, where control systems perform processes and can operate with minimal human assistance.
These advanced systems are especially important with the world’s growing population, where there is a constant flow of high-quality production. And it looks like the desire for automation is only just beginning: the industrial automation software market is expected to grow by 8% over the next several years.
Benefits of Industrial Automation
Manufacturers and their employees are already reaping the benefits of automation. A significant majority of workers have reported positive outcomes working with automation, saying they experienced simplified processes, improved productivity, improved job satisfaction, and increased time for creativity.
The benefits of automation go even further. These machines can also help reduce costs, guarantee safety, improve product quality, and reduce routine checks.
Benefit #1: Raises the Level of Safety
There are hundreds of potential safety risks when operating heavy machinery and automatic systems in a factory. In 2018, more than 430 thousand manufacturing employees had a workplace-related injury. Sprains, strains, and tears were the leading types of afflictions.
Although workers are required to attend extensive training before operating heavy machinery, there is always a chance of human or machine error, which makes manufacturing plants a risky environment.
But with industrial automation, workers could leave the hazardous areas and transition into an operator or supervisory role. This way, robots can handle dangerous tasks instead. This role is safer for people because it requires less work which helps avoid fatigue, mistakes, and forced overtime.
Benefit #2: Increases Productivity
Since robots don’t experience fatigue as humans do, these automatic systems can work 24/7/365, therefore increasing production rates. And, depending on the network, machines are also able to perform several tasks at once or can be easily reprogrammed to change their process.
Benefit #3: Minimizes Labor and Production Costs
One 24-hour day of production would require several laborers to shift in and out. With automatic manufacturing, industries can replace a human operator. By eliminating wages and benefits, labor costs are minimized.
Automation also works faster than human operators do, which saves production costs on energy consumption, machine availability, and gathering data during processing.
Benefit #4: Improves Product Quality
Machines are precise tools, so there is little room for error. Machines are built to perform the same task in precisely the same way repetitively. If there is an error, the system quickly notifies the human operator so that it can be repaired.
Automation also promotes better information accuracy. The system’s personal computers help collect data to improve future performance.
Benefit #5: Reduces Routine Checks
Most advanced industrial systems have SCADA and PLC systems that can perform routine checks with the click of a button. With automatic control over the entire system, manufacturers can save time and money on regular inspections.
Types of Industrial Automation Systems
There are a few different types of inner computer systems that are used based on the manufacturer’s needs, which are: fixed automation, programmable automation, and flexible automation.
Each system helps with mass production, but vary on product variety versus production quantity.
Type #1: Fixed Automation
Fixed automated machines perform a predetermined routine of operations. These systems are typically used for product assembly and assembly lines, where there is a high need for thousands of the same product. Fixed systems are challenging to reprogram and may come with a high price tag, which is why these types are best suited for industries like food processing.
Type #2: Programmable Automation
Programmable automation offers more flexibility than fixed when it comes to changing the process design. However, this system can usually only modify assembling operations, making it most ideal for production processes that only require minimal processing changes.
Type #3: Flexible Automation
Flexible automation offers full workability to change any method for any product. This modification can be performed quickly with ease by a human operator via the system’s human-machine interface (HMI). This system allows for multiple products to be processed at the same time rather than separately, making it ideal for vehicle manufacturers.
The Anatomy of Industrial Control Systems
Manufacturing requires a lot of machine power, which is why industrial control systems (ICS) involve several separate systems used to help control the processes. Depending on the type of manufacturing, there are a few different types of control systems that you might require. Larger systems are usually operated by one of three types of control systems, which are SCADA, DCS, or PLC.
System #1: Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA)
Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) is a useful software system that is highly utilized in major manufacturing plants. Through several computer network systems, SCADA can monitor and control machinery at a supervisory level, including its abilities to perform several essential tasks, such as:
- Control production processes
- Monitor, gather, analyze, and log data
- Directly interact with devices like sensors and valves through human-machine interface (HMI)
- Record and log events or malfunctions
Often, SCADA systems work with Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs), which is a necessary tool used to help control systems and processes. Distributed control systems (DCS) are also able to maintain SCADA and PLC from a distance.
System #2: Distributed Control Systems (DCS)
A distributed control system (DCS) is a remote system that can maintain, operate, and control applications through geographically-distributed control loops throughout a factory.
Through its digital network, a DCS does not require a central operator, meaning it reduces installation costs. Instead, it can easily control machines via various distributed application points.
System #3: Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC)
Programmable logic controllers (PLC) help control specific manufacturing processes like assembly lines and robotic devices or machines. PLCs can help monitor and record data on machine productivity, start and stop processes, note operating temperatures, generate alarms if there is a malfunction or error, and are incredibly flexible to adapt to any application process.
The Future of Industrial Automation
Industrial automation has a very positive and powerful future. With the advancement of robotics, computer systems, and AI, there’s no doubt that the demand for industrial automation will continue to grow. Currently, there is an expected rise for automation in the following four sectors:
- Accommodation and food services
- Transportation and warehousing
Also, over the next few years, automation is expected to generate $238 billion in revenue as the practice gets incorporated into more industries across the world.
Changes in the Workplace
Industrial automation has the potential to help improve the quality of life for manufacturing workers. With the use of these advanced machines, people won’t have to perform mundane and repetitive tasks. This extra time allows for more specialized training and education, which could potentially make operators in this field one of the most sought-after career paths.
Economist Dr. Henry Siu of the University of British Columbia weighs in on how automation will affect the workplace. “We’ll do what we’ve always done,” he says. “Human skills will adapt. We’ll move toward our comparative advantage.”
Although the public is generally receptive to this advanced machinery, there is still much debate within the industrial automation forum about its introduction to the workplace. Some worry that automation may replace existing jobs, but there is much hope that they will actually create them and move existing workers to supervisory positions.
Automation has played an essential role in human history, serving as an easier way to make the products that are used every day. Now, as technology has evolved, so has production: it’s certain that industrial automation is the future of manufacturing.
With advanced and flexible operating systems, automation brings numerous benefits that can help industries save time and money without compromising quality. Some of the most critical industrial control systems are SCADA, DLCs, and PLCs. These systems can control, operate, and maintain appliances and their processes with minimal human supervision. Workers will be able to move out of hazardous conditions and oversee the machines at work.
If you are in one of the booming industries that could benefit from automation, then you need instruments that can keep up with your company’s needs. Telstar’s full-service company offers a variety of tools and services for your automation needs—where our team handles all the planning, design, and installation. Learn more about what Telstar instruments can do for you today.