an image of robotic arm automated production in industrial automation which can be used to leverage a digital twin in an ERP production environment simulation

Industrial Automation

Industrial automation is a topic of conversation that manufacturers all over the globe are discussing on the shop

Industrial automation is a topic of conversation that manufacturers all over the globe are discussing on the shop floors of production facilities and in board rooms. Industrial automation is no longer an optional component of manufacturing industries. To remain competitive, industrial automation must be considered to maintain a level of competitiveness in modern manufacturing scenarios.

What Is Industrial Automation?

As far as an Industrial automation definition is concerned, the concept can be defined as completing an operation or procedure without human assistance by utilizing control systems, such as computers or robots, and information technologies, like ERP platforms and EDI, for handling different processes and machinery.

Types of Industrial Automation

There are several types of industrial automation in use today. They can be broken down into four main categories:

  1. Fixed (Hard) Automation

  2. Programmable Automation

  3. Flexible (Soft) Automation

  4. Integrated Automation (TIA)

These types of automation are leveraged in different scenarios, some data-driven and some production-driven. We’ll go into that a little later.

For now, it’s important to understand that industrial automation technologies and concepts can be applied most readily to data collection, data processing, and predictable physical work, such as welding, soldering, painting, food prep, packaging, and materials handling.

Fixed (Hard) Automation

Fixed automation refers to the use of special purpose equipment to automate a fixed sequence of processing or assembly operations.

an image of fixed (hard) automation in industrial automation

In this example, the application is usually simple and will involve a process or assembly that is dictated by programmed commands. It is relatively difficult to accommodate changes in the product design in a fixed automation process, which is set up with one purpose or process per application in mind.

Fixed (Hard) Automation Examples include:

  • Mechanized assembly
  • Machining transfer lines
  • Automated material handling

Fixed (Hard) Automation Advantages:

  • High production rates
  • Low unit cost

Fixed (Hard) Automation Disadvantages:

  • Relatively inflexible in accommodating product variety
  • The high initial investment for custom-engineered equipment
  • High vulnerability to failure
  • Obsolescence

Programmable Automation

In programmable automation, the production equipment is designed with the capability to change the sequence of operations to accommodate different product configurations.

an image of programmable automation in industrial automation

Programmable automation is used most often when manufacturing products in batches. It allows for customization and frequent changes throughout the manufacturing process.

In this case, the operation is controlled by a program of instructions that are read and interpreted by the system. New programs can be prepared and entered into the hardware to produce new products at any time.

Programmable Automation Examples include:

  • Computer Numerical controlled (CNC) machine tools
  • Industrial robots
  • Programmable logic controllers (PLC)

Programmable Automation Advantages:

  • Flexible and able to deal with design variations
  • Suitable for batch production

Programmable Automation Disadvantages:

  • High investment in general purpose equipment
  • Lower production rate than fixed automation

Flexible (Soft) Automation

With flexible automation, several machine tools are linked together by a material-handling system, and all components of the system are controlled by a central computer. This configuration offers rapid and smooth changes to products and processes.

an example of soft (flexible) automation

Utilizing multiple tools that are linked by a material handling system, like this rotary indexer, a flexible approach to automation is capable of producing a variety of parts with virtually no time lost for changes in the configuration. The same is true when reprogramming the system or altering the physical setup.

Flexible (Soft) Automation Examples Include:

Robot arms can be programmed to assume multiple tasks, such as insert screws, drill holes, sand, weld, insert rivets, and spray paint objects on an assembly line.

Flexible (Soft) Automation Advantages:

  • Continuous production of variable mixtures of products
  • Flexible to deal with product design variation
  • Offers Medium production rate

Flexible (Soft) Automation Disadvantages:

  • Requires a High amount of investment
  • High unit cost relative to fixed automation

Integrated Automation (TIA)

More of a philosophy pioneered by Siemens Automation and Drives than a tangible system, TIA includes several core concepts:

  • A common software environment
  • A common data management system
  • A common communication method

 TIA implementation is ideal for many industries, including:

  • Automotive
  • General machine construction
  • Special-purpose machine manufacturing
  • Standard mechanical equipment manufacturers, OEMs
  • Plastics processing
  • The packaging industry
  • Food, beverages, and tobacco industries

Totally-Integrated Automation (TIA) Defining Characteristics:

  • Facilitates shorter time-to-market
  • Higher productivity
  • Lower life-cycle costs
  • Reduced complexity
  • Greater security of investment

Industrial Automation With ERP And EDI

In the past, ERP software has served, in large part, to automate traditional business functions and record-keeping activities. Today, IIoT technologies extend those automation capabilities to the production floor. Taking into account the vast amounts of data production processes, robotics, and edge devices provide to centralized ERP systems, maintenance schedules, demand planning, and reporting can all be completed without the need for human intervention. By setting conditions and responses within the ERP system, users can monitor facility operations to expend energy or resources only when conditions warrant. The results are a more connected, streamlined business from the shop floor to the top floor with less waste at every level.

EDI further optimizes operations by eliminating manual communications between trading partners that used to take the form of faxes, phone calls, and emails. Electronic Data Interchange is an ERP agnostic technology that communicates critical order and shipping details instantaneously between digital devices. Standardized document formats, ensure that your logistics are in sync. Data exchanged through EDI is kept secure end-to-end and remains easy to interpret for both active orders and historical records.

About Encompass Solutions

Encompass Solutions, Inc. is an ERP consulting firm and Epicor Gold Partner that offers professional services in business consulting, project management, and software implementation. Whether undertaking full-scale implementation, integration, and renovation of existing systems or addressing emerging challenges in corporate and operational growth, Encompass provides a specialized approach to every client’s needs. As experts in identifying customer requirements and addressing them with the right solutions, we ensure our clients are equipped to match the pace of the Industry.

Sean Balogh

About Sean Balogh

A marketing professional working hard to deliver relevant and engaging content to audiences in education, technology, and manufacturing.