Industrial automation can be traced back to the 1970s, when a team of Honeywell engineers created the first distributed control system (DCS). Following the development of the first programmable logic controller (PLC) by Dick Morley, an American mechanical engineer, several startups released human interface software to help add innovative automation solutions to a variety of industries. While exploring the brief history of manufacturing application, it’s important to keep in mind that some innovators hit growth stumbling blocks while others continue to thrive.
The evolution of industrial automation hasn’t slowed down. Sensors, amplifiers, displays, controls, recorders, valves, actuators, and other devices are constantly being introduced. Many industrial automation companies specialize in specific applications, and most companies have only recently begun to expand their product lines beyond their initial applications and geographic areas.
Automation is a type of mechanization that employs a specific machinery mechanism in conjunction with human operators to complete a task. The manual operation of a task using powered machinery that relies on human decision-making is known as mechanization.
Automation, on the other hand, uses logical programming commands and powerful machineries to replace human involvement.
Industrial Automation is the replacement of human thinking with computers and machines. The word Automation comes from the Greek words Auto and Matos, which mean “self-dictating” or “a mechanism that moves by itself.” It is derived from the words Auto and Matos, which mean “self” and “moving.”
In a nutshell, industrial automation is the use of pre-programmed technologies and automatic control devices to automate and control industrial processes without requiring significant human intervention, resulting in superior performance to manual control. PLCs, PCs, PACs, and other automation devices are among the technologies used, as are various industrial communication systems.
Previously, the goal of automation was to boost productivity (since automated systems can operate 24 hours a day) and lower the cost of human operators (i.e. wages & benefits). Automation’s focus has shifted to improving quality and flexibility in the manufacturing process today. The installation of pistons into engines used to be done manually in the automobile industry, with a 1-1.5% error rate. Currently, this task is carried out by automated machinery with a 0.00001 percent error rate.
When compared to human operators, automated work cells are typically less variable and less prone to error. Because of the precision provided by industrial automation, the manufacturing process is more consistent and reproducible, resulting in higher-quality products.
Robots can work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and are simply faster than humans. This additional work time improves efficiency and increases the work cell’s throughput. In addition, industrial automation allows the work cell to be adjusted. For example, if a work cell needs to be optimized or modified for a new product, the automated system can be reprogrammed offline with little to no downtime and little to no operator training.
It is simply less expensive to use robots rather than human operators. The only costs after the initial cost of a robot are maintenance and the energy used during operation. When compared to operator salaries and benefits, the cost savings add up quickly. Furthermore, robots optimize the process and improve quality, resulting in less waste and additional cost savings.
Industrial automation allows for a more efficient production line, which reduces product lead times and, in some cases, justifies keeping production in-house rather than outsourcing.
One of the most significant benefits of industrial automation is that operators are no longer required to perform hazardous tasks such as working with hazardous chemicals, picking up heavy objects, working in adverse conditions such as high temperatures, or performing repetitive motion tasks. When robots and other automation solutions perform these types of tasks, operators are safer.
Making the switch from a human-operated production line to an automated production line requires a significant upfront investment. In addition, there are significant costs associated with training employees to operate this new sophisticated equipment.
In order to achieve high production rates, this type of automation is used to perform fixed and repetitive operations. It automates fixed-sequence assembling or processing operations with special purpose or dedicated equipment. It’s difficult to change or vary the product design once it’s been implemented. As a result, it is inflexible in terms of product variety, but it improves efficiency by increasing production rate and lowering unit cost. Distillation, paint shops, and conveyors are examples of automated systems.
With the modification of the control program in the automated equipment, a specific class of product can be changed, as well as assembling or processing operations.
This automation is best suited for batch production processes with medium to high product volumes. However, changing and reconfiguring the system for a new product or sequence of operations is difficult. As a result, a new product or a change in the sequence of operations necessitates a lengthy setup. Numerically controlled machines, paper mills, steel rolling mills, industrial robots, and so on are examples of this automation system.
This automation system provides automatic control equipment that allows for a great deal of flexibility in product design changes. These changes can be made quickly using commands given by human operators in the form of codes.
Instead of producing multiple products with different ranges separately, manufacturers can use this automation to produce multiple products with different ranges as a combined combination process. Automatic guided vehicles, automobiles, and multipurpose CNC machines are some examples of this automation system.
Multi-functional industrial robots are currently being developed and deployed, allowing a single machine to perform multiple tasks. Industrial automation systems also will have the ability to make decisions and work autonomously without human help. This will enable humans to work in more rewarding jobs while also increasing their efficiency and productivity.
While the movement of industrial automation began with automated control systems for specific industrial machines near the end of WWII, the following decades saw more automated systems, automated machining, and robotics integrations become commonplace on the factory floor. By the 1980s, economies like Japan had fully robotized their automotive and manufactured electronics industries, a trend that China and other newly developed economies have continued to this day.
The problem is that most of this automation occurred in areas where certain types of unskilled labor were relatively inexpensive, and in industries (such as automotive and consumer electronics) where production processes must be concentrated – both geographically and among a small number of highly profitable firms.
Similarly, primary materials producers in pulp, paper, metals, and other industries rely on automated systems, but these are rarely robotic and are more geared toward processing large quantities of raw materials that aren’t distributed as finished goods but rather used in the production of finished goods for businesses or consumers.
With the introduction of robot vision, artificial intelligence, and other cutting-edge technological capabilities, new industries will be able to benefit from industrial robotics and take the benefits of automation to new heights. This is especially important for many businesses because demographic shifts in both developed and developing economies mean that skilled labor will be scarce in the near future to meet production demands.
High-mix manufacturers are the ones who stand to gain the most. Some forms of automation and almost all forms of robotics have been seen as off limits by manufacturers working with batches less than 1000, with more than 10 parts on the same machine in a month or even a year.
They’ve continued to benefit from process controllers or programmable automation controllers for conveyors and other specialized industrial applications, but they haven’t been able to adapt many skilled applications, such as painting or other spray processes, to their list of automated tasks.
With new robotics advancements, these companies can achieve not just automation, but autonomous manufacturing – a state in which process programming and organization can become more automated in ways that allow human engineers to focus on creating value through product design… and let the machines handle the rest!