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The Role of Automation in Modern Production Facilities

By automating the manufacturing processes in your workplace, you can enjoy significant improvements in productivity. Automation is a means of driving down labor costs, but it’s also a way of freeing up labor for more rewarding kinds of work. The end result is that a given facility will be able to produce more value using fewer resources. That’s the theory. But exactly what does automation look like in practice, and how does it work?


What is automation in manufacturing?


If you’re handing over work to machines, you’re automating. In the simplest case, this might mean entrusting a machine for a single part of a larger production process, like attaching the ring-pull to a can of soda. The right machine can do this task more quickly and accurately than even a large team of humans.


Thus, this form of automation has been around for decades. It’s known as ‘fixed’ automation, and it requires the creation of a machine bespoke for a particular task. More recent times have seen the introduction of programmable machines, which can be adapted to changing production needs.


The major advantage of a programmable machine is that its functionality can be refined over time. This is particularly advantageous for smaller enterprises, who might want to start a production line going without committing to a large investment in fixed machinery.

If you’re investing in flexible, programmable machinery, after all, you always have the option of pivoting away from a given process.


Types of automation


Automation comes in several types, beyond the broad categories we’ve already mentioned.

Computer-Integrated Manufacturing, or CIM, is the modern robotic production line, in which various processes are integrated with one another. The involvement of human beings in a production line like this is minimal – humans, in this setting, are mere supervisors of the machines that actually do the work.


A related term is IoT, or ‘Internet of Things’. This sees devices fitted with microchips such that they can form a network. It’s not just a series of programmable robots performing tasks, in other words: these robots are actually talking to one another. This allows for greater efficiency in quality control, storage, and other processes that are adjacent to the manufacturing itself.


Trends in manufacturing automation


The introduction of specialized components, like safety relays, has helped to drive down failure rates and drive up efficiency for manufacturers – and this includes heavily automated ones.


Manufacturing automation is likely to get more sophisticated and involved as time goes on; if past trends are anything to go by. Humans who can analyze and creatively solve problems and find improvements will work alongside increasingly flexible machines that can be programmed to implement the wishes of their masters.


More flexible machinery might open the door for smaller operations. This will drive down costs, increase innovation, and make for an entirely different, heavily mechanized world of manufacturing.

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