Even though you may have never worked in industrial facility, you’ve probably heard of the term “industrial automation” or industry 4.0 or robotics.
In this article, we are going to explain in full detail what an industrial automation is, what are the main benefits, how it works and where it is used.
What is industrial automation?
Industrial automation is the use of different technologies that allow us to monitor and control devices, machinery or industrial processes.
The main purpose of industrial automation is to automatically perform repetitive tasks, increasing the amount of produce obtained and reducing the need of a human intervention as much as possible. Thanks to this, the quality of the product increases and costs are reduced.
How is it possible to achieve an automated industry nowadays?
“Automation” isn’t a novelty. During prehistoric times, humans used machines to replace human effort with mechanical means to improve the job’s performance.
However, the “boom” was in 1801 with the huge advances in engineering that allowed the textile industry to be revolutionized and to automate industrial processes as well as entire factories without the need to stop due to human workforce.
Main advantages of industrial automation
In addition to knowing what industrial automation is, it is essential to know what its main benefits are so that you understand its importance in today’s world.
Improvement of production quality
Regardless of the sector, an industrial automation improves the quality of products.
Minimize human efforts
Automation reduces production times, since machines work faster than humans. Industrial costs are reduced and productivity improves.
There’s a greater productivity, without hidden costs, because everything is registered by computer.
Increased investment in industrial preventive maintenance
Given the need to have all the equipment updated and in good condition, investment in industrial preventive maintenance is increased, which we already know is a more economical than repair costs due to breakage.
Improvement of services and processes
Since the processes are repetitive, many can be improved in time and results compared to what a human. It increases the safety and protection of machinery and human equipment, as well as reducing possible damage to machine parts.
Disadvantages of industrial automation
But “all that glitters is not gold”. There are also a number of drawbacks.
Automation means that only one task can be done, therefore variety disappears.
Automation is used in processes which allow us to produce high-volume, similar and consistent products.
Loss of jobs
If the work is done by a machine, obviously human labor isn´t needed.
Automation isn’t cheap. Development and research costs, as well as employee training and preventive maintenance costs that allow these machines to operate must be considered when deciding whether or not to implement this type of technology into your manufacturing process.
Machines, generally (although progress is being made in eco-friendly solutions), tend to work by emitting polluting chemicals or gases.
How does an automated industry operate? Examples
Automation is possible thanks to technology, which allows us, for example, to measure an object’s pressure, volume or weight.
Motors or pneumatics allow us to carry out movements (to move objects), while sensors allow us to evaluate what is happening in real time, and warn us if something is wrong to find a solution.
There are also communication systems. These allow us to communication between different areas of an industrial warehouse or logistics center; controllers that monitor the completion of a chain by scheduling processes.
Without forgetting, of course, robotics. These allow a repetitive process to take place.
Where can we find industrial automation?
Industrial automation can be found in many types of industries in our economy.
“Usually when we hear about automation, we always think of robots assembling parts of a vehicle.”
Here we show you a video of an assembly line where we see how robots are painting or welding, tasks that require a lot of repetition and precision, factors that may not be fully achieved with human intervention.
However, automation is also present in processes in other industrial sectors.
In the pharmaceutical industry, for example, the processes of blister-packing medicines or pills, putting them in boxes, packaging them … is all an automated process.
Automation doesn’t only apply to industrial procedures, it also applies to the design, maintenance and installation of products or services.
What is the future of industrial automation?
Automation clearly has its opponents. There is the fear that robots can cause mass unemployment in society. However, there are many benefits they currently offer us and many more that they could offer us.
In the future, there will be multifunctional robots that can do several different tasks. They will have predictive maintenance and self-diagnosis capacity. They will even be able to work autonomously and… make decisions.
“With an automated industry, factories are more efficient in consuming human resources, raw materials and energy.”
In addition, the fact that we will all be unemployed is a popular false belief, because new jobs will emerge to control and manage that automation.
Ultimately, industrial automation will create a more productive and efficient work environment.
Types of industrial automation
It’s important to mention what are the types of industrial automation that are currently most used in production processes.
They can be classified into 4 types.
This technology is used in batch manufacturing. It’s a system that is programmed to produce batches of products with different specifications.
They are programmed to facilitate the changes made to the product. However, that reprogramming to switch from one product to another takes a long time.
Integrated automation system
It constitutes a set of processes, machines and data that work synchronously under the control of an automated system. Tools or machines such as belts, cranes or robots are controlled by a computer, programmed to carry out manufacturing processes.
Flexible automation system
It’s a sophisticated mode of automation. It allows to change equipment quickly and automatically. A mixture of different products can be produced without wasting any time.
Fixed automation system
They are special equipment that facilitate specific processes. Product designs have to be stable and constant. It’s very difficult to introduce alterations into this type of processes.
Interesting question: Should companies pay taxes on robots?
There are many experts who debate whether companies that have robots should pay for having those robots.
The same way employers pay their employees, they should do so for robots. If the human factor loses employment and doesn´t pay taxes, how does a country sustain itself?
These high unemployment rates will require new measures to counteract social deterioration. If the automation of the twentieth century already caused unemployment, we already know that the same could happen again.
“Some defend the possibility of implementing a Universal Basic Income to cover the risks of automation.”
Importance of industrial automation in Industry 4.0
Industrial automation has opened the doors to Industry 4.0, a concept that refers to how manufacturing and all its processes are connected through the Internet.
What’s more, much of this industrial automation involves the digitization of many procedures thanks to artificial intelligence.
“What is evident is that automation improves the procedures of a company, optimizing its activities.”
Conclusions: Is industrial automation so necessary?
The competition between companies is so high that there are miniscule advantages between the large companies, since they have the best technologies within their factories.
We can all come to the conclusion that Coca-Cola outsells Pepsi, but actually they both have the same automation systems in their factories.
Automation today more than ever marks the effectiveness of a brand in the market. If a new beverage brand emerges, it should have access to the same technology in order to access a minimal market share. And it will surely cost Coca-Cola much less resources and jobs compared to the new brand.
The reduction in costs associated with the automated industry will offer more products, at better prices and at a higher quality.
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