A factory automation system uses robots, computers and sensors to reduce the amount of human involvement in a manufacturing process. These systems are designed to optimize a production line and can help a company stay competitive by reducing costs, improving quality and speeding up the time it takes for new products to reach market.
There are various types of factory automation ranging from a single function to end-to-end transformation. Using automated machines to carry out a task eliminates the need for humans on the production floor and allows employees to focus on supervisory, monitoring, adjustment and maintenance duties. At the highest level of factory automation is what’s often referred to as a “lights out” manufacturing environment where a fully automated production line can run without anyone on site.
The most basic level of industrial automation is a system of sensors that monitor the performance of equipment and processes in a plant. These sensors convert real-time data into electrical signals that are passed to a higher level of control. This data is used to calculate and control process parameters such as temperature, pressure and flow.
These lower-level systems can be combined with robotics to form a programmable, intelligent machine. Robots are able to perform highly repetitive tasks quickly and with great consistency, providing valuable labor savings. They also can be more precise and consistent than humans, helping to prevent errors that might otherwise occur during a manual process. And with the latest iterations of robots, they can learn to do even more complex tasks — such as welding, machining, cutting, or packing — which can significantly reduce post-manufacture inspection and rework.
In addition to improving efficiency and reducing production costs, industrial automation can improve the safety of workers in the workplace. Computer-operated machines can be programmed to stop operating if they sense danger, which helps reduce the number of accidents that could cause injury or death in the workplace. And the precise nature of automated machines can reduce waste by ensuring that only the exact amount of materials needed for a particular process is used.
Many manufacturers rely on a combination of both robotics and sensor technologies to create the ultimate in factory automation. This enables them to use the power of automation to handle more complicated tasks while retaining the flexibility that comes with the ability to switch between different product styles in the same plant.
Some companies also choose to combine automated systems with manual workstations, where a trained professional makes the final decision. This blend of technology can be useful for things like quality assurance and complaint management, where a company may feel that human judgment should always have the final say.
Some of the top global leaders in industrial automation include Danfoss, Yaskawa, Mitsubishi and ABB. While these companies all have very different histories, they all strive to develop revolutionary new technology that will improve and streamline industrial processes. By creating environmentally friendly, efficient and affordable technology that will help factories operate more productively, these companies can contribute to a better world while making a profit.