What is Factory Automation?
Factory Automation is the process of using technology to replace manual, human-centric processes within a manufacturing facility - helping businesses to reduce or re-allocate their labour resources. These automation systems can range from simple robots to complex machines, depending on the needs of the factory.
Their use is becoming increasingly popular in the manufacturing industry, as businesses look for new and innovative ways to stay competitive.
The Four Categories of Factory Automation Systems
All forms of factory automation fall on a spectrum. On one end, there is "lights out" full automation, which operates 24 hours a day. On the other, there is automation that serves as a tool to assist human input.
Let’s explore these categories in more detail.
Partial Process Automation
Partial process automation is when a human worker is in control, but certain parts of a task or process are automated. In this approach, automated systems handle simple and repetitive tasks that don't require human judgment or decision-making. However, a trained professional still makes the final decision or takes action, overseeing the whole process.
This approach is frequently adopted in areas such as quality assurance and complaint management, where companies believe that human judgment should be the ultimate determining factor. For instance, in quality assurance, automated systems may be used to perform routine checks or inspections, but a human worker will review the results and make the final decision regarding product quality. Similarly, in complaint management, automated systems can be employed to streamline the initial processing and categorisation of complaints, but it is ultimately a trained professional who evaluates and responds to the complaints based on their expertise and understanding of the situation.
Partial process automation strikes a balance between efficiency and the preservation of human judgment, allowing companies to benefit from automation while still valuing the importance of human decision-making in certain areas.
Single Automated Machines
Single Automated Machines are machines specifically designed to independently carry out a single, repetitive task. They are widely used in manufacturing industries and are capable of performing various robotic actions, such as cutting, welding, packaging, and defect inspection.
To improve productivity and streamline manufacturing, single automated machines are often integrated into automated production lines. These production lines typically include a conveyor system and designated workstations where the machines are stationed.
In certain areas, a trained professional is still involved in making the final decision. This is particularly true in quality assurance and complaint management, where companies believe that human judgment should ultimately have the final say.
Production Line Automation
Production line automation is a method incorporating a series of automated machines that each perform a different task. These machines are interconnected through a conveyor system, allowing for a continuous and efficient flow of materials and products. The primary objective of production line automation is to minimise the need for human intervention and maximise productivity.
In an automated production line, the role of human workers undergoes a significant transformation. Instead of actively participating in the production process, they transition into supervising, monitoring, and maintaining the equipment. This shift in responsibility allows workers to focus on quality control, troubleshooting, and ensuring the smooth operation of the automated systems.
End-to-end automation refers to a comprehensive approach where all stages of a process or operation are fully automated, from start to finish. It involves the integration of various automated systems and technologies to streamline and optimise workflows, eliminating the need for manual intervention and achieving a high level of operational efficiency.
With end-to-end automation, the entire manufacturing or production process can be carried out without human involvement, enabling "lights out" manufacturing, where operations can run continuously without the need for human supervision. This allows for 24-hour production, maximising productivity and output.
Types of Automation
Depending on whether your process involves human intervention, or is a lights-out service, there are a variety of automation tools and technology you could choose from. For example:
- Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT): Connecting various devices and machines with AI to share data in real-time.
- Fixed Automation: Machines designed to perform a specific task without human intervention.
- Programmable Automation: Machines programmed to perform specific tasks automatically.
- Flexible Automation: Technology and systems that can easily adapt to changes in production.
- Integrated Automation: Connecting machines into one system for flexibility and customisation.
- Collaborative Robots: Working alongside humans to improve efficiency and safety.
Choosing the right automation for your factory processes will depend on your specific needs. If you’re unsure which type best suits your needs, our expert team is here to help you decide.
The Benefits of Automation in Manufacturing
Factory automation could help improve your manufacturing processes in a variety of ways. For example, it often leads to:
- Lowered operating costs & boosted ROI: Automation helps reduce labour costs as fewer workers are required for repetitive tasks. Although initial investments in automation can be substantial, the long-term benefits often outweigh the costs.
- Reduced lead times and increased output: Automated systems enable faster production processes, reducing the time it takes to manufacture products. This technology can work continuously without breaks, resulting in higher production output.
- Consistent and improved part production & quality: Automation ensures consistent quality by minimising human error and variations - leading to improved part production, reducing defects and enhancing overall product quality.
- An ability to be more competitive: As you begin to produce goods at a reliable standard, all while reducing your cost and increasing your speed, you will become more competitive in the market.
- Reduced need for outsourcing: Automation allows manufacturers to bring previously outsourced tasks in-house. This reduces dependence on external suppliers, decreasing costs and lead times.
- Better planning: Automation systems provide real time data and analytics, enabling you to analyse production processes and make informed decisions. This data can be used to optimise workflow, identify bottlenecks, and improve overall planning and resource allocation.
- Improved worker safety: Automation replaces workers in hazardous or physically demanding tasks, reducing the risk of accidents and injuries. Employees can focus on more skilled and complex roles, improving overall safety conditions in the factory.
Industry 4.0: The Future of Automation
Are you ready to take your production to the next level?
With Industry 4.0, automated manufacturing processes are revolutionising how companies conduct business. From advanced sensors to machine learning, this technology is making production faster and more efficient.
Gearing up to the fourth industrial revolution, you're going to need to get up to speed on the use of machine learning in factory automation systems. It involves the recent development of algorithms and models that enable machines to learn and make autonomous decisions in real time.
This allows machines the ability to adapt and optimise their performance based on an interaction with their surroundings. As part of this, they analyse vast amounts of data and make decisions without human intervention.
These robots continuously learn from real-time data, allowing them to adapt their actions and optimise routes. They are also useful for predictive maintenance, as they can learn to recognise and identify patterns that point to possible failure; suggesting fixes before an issue becomes critical.
The process of machine learning involves training algorithms on large data sets to identify patterns, make predictions, and gain insights. As the algorithms are exposed to more data, they improve their performance and decision-making abilities.
Through machine learning, robots can autonomously adjust their actions based on real-time factors such as changing circumstances, demand fluctuations, or environmental conditions. This adaptability is often used in industries like logistics, manufacturing, and warehousing.
Sensors play an integral role in automating processes, controlling equipment, and providing feedback on the performance of an operation.
From temperature sensors to motion detectors, these technologies are often used in quality control to monitor and measure a variety of variables. It can also be used to detect imperfections in products.
With these advanced detectors, you can make more informed decisions about production processes and the performance of your equipment. They can also alert you to changes in the environment, and help you plan for the future.
Sensors can also be used by robots to navigate their environment. For example, LiDAR, vision systems, and proximity sensors, all enable autonomous vehicles and robots to detect objects more effectively, evade obstacles, and easily move through crowded spaces.
Whether you’re using sensors to better optimise your tasks or to better detect potential problems before they become costly, they have the power to optimise your workflow.
Lenoch Engineering: Full Turnkey Automation Solutions
Are you convinced of the benefits of factory automation and excited by the latest innovations? Are you still unsure which type best suits your needs? We’re here to help.
Here at Lenoch Engineering, we provide full turnkey automation solutions that can be tailored to your industrial environment and needs. We utilise the latest technologies - including our CAD, CMM, and CNC Machinery - to ensure our automation processes are completed to the highest standard and accuracy.
We offer nationwide UK coverage and can deliver and install the automation as necessary. Here's what you can expect from us:
- Reliable solutions tailored to your industrial environment;
- Latest technologies utilised to ensure quality;
- Nationwide coverage and delivery/installation;
- Expert advice and consultancy services.
Whether you're looking for a single component or a fully automated system, we can provide the right cost-effective solution. Reach out to us today to get started.