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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. In order to remain competitive, industrial automation must be considered to maintain a level of competitiveness in modern manufacturing scenarios.
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.
There are several types of industrial automation in use today. They can be broken down into four main categories:
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 automation refers to the use of special purpose equipment to automate a fixed sequence of processing or assembly operations.
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:
Fixed (Hard) Automation Advantages:
Fixed (Hard) Automation Disadvantages:
In programmable automation, the production equipment is designed with the capability to change the sequence of operations to accommodate different product configurations.
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:
Programmable Automation Advantages:
Programmable Automation Disadvantages:
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.
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 set up.
Flexible (Soft) Automation Examples Include:
Robot arms that 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:
Flexible (Soft) Automation Disadvantages:
More of a philosophy pioneered by Siemens Automation and Drives than a tangible system, TIA includes several core concepts:
TIA implementation is ideal for many industries, including:
Totally-Integrated Automation (TIA) Defining Characteristics:
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.
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 the 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 Industry.