A practical guide to production automation

In this article, we will discuss the various types of manufacturing automation and provide examples of automation machinery.

Unlocking the potential of manufacturing: A practical guide to production automation
March 28, 2023
Last updated
February 29, 2024

In today's fast-paced, competitive market, staying ahead of the curve is crucial for manufacturing executives, production managers, and plant managers. One way to achieve this is by embracing the automatization of production. Manufacturing automation not only streamlines processes but also enhances productivity and profitability.

In this article, we will discuss the various types of manufacturing automation, provide examples of automation machinery, and outline the benefits of investing in a software such as Factbird.

What is Manufacturing Automation

Manufacturing automation refers to the integration of technology automation in manufacturing processes to minimize human intervention, increase efficiency, and improve product quality. Automation machinery manufacturing encompasses a wide range of technologies, including robotics, artificial intelligence, and computer-aided design (CAD). By implementing automation in production, manufacturers can achieve significant improvements in cost, speed, accuracy, and overall performance.

Types of Manufacturing Automation

There are three primary types of automation in manufacturing processes: fixed automation, programmable automation, and flexible automation. Each type has its advantages and specific applications, depending on the industry and production requirements.

Fixed Automation

Fixed automation, also known as hard automation, is a system designed to perform a specific task with high precision and speed. This type of automation is typically used for high-volume, repetitive tasks that require little to no variation. Examples of fixed automation machinery include assembly lines, conveyor systems, and automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS). Fixed automation offers high production rates, reduced labor costs, and consistent product quality.

Programmable Automation

Programmable automation allows for the production of different product variants by modifying the control program rather than changing the physical setup. This type of automation is ideal for medium to high production volumes with some degree of customization. Computer numerical control (CNC) machines, industrial robots, and programmable logic controllers (PLCs) are examples of programmable automation machinery. Key benefits include greater flexibility, reduced setup times, and faster product changeovers.

Flexible Automation

Flexible automation, also known as soft automation, offers the highest level of adaptability in manufacturing. This type of automation can accommodate various products, designs, and production volumes without significant equipment or process changes. Flexible automation systems often employ advanced technologies such as vision systems, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to enable rapid adaptation to new tasks. Examples of flexible automation machinery include collaborative robots (cobots) and additive manufacturing systems (3D printers). The benefits of flexible automation include increased adaptability, shorter lead times, and the ability to handle complex, customized products.

Examples of Manufacturing Automation

Manufacturing automation has transformed various industries, from automotive and aerospace to food processing and pharmaceuticals. Here are some examples of automation in manufacturing processes:

  • Automotive assembly lines: Robotics and automated guided vehicles (AGVs) streamline production, increase precision, and reduce labor costs.
  • Electronics manufacturing: Automation machinery, such as pick-and-place machines and automated optical inspection (AOI) systems, enable fast, accurate assembly and inspection of circuit boards.
  • Pharmaceutical production: Automated packaging lines and robotic filling systems ensure high-speed, accurate dispensing and packaging of medications.

Benefits of Automation in Manufacturing

The advantages of investing in manufacturing automation are manifold. Here are some key benefits:

  1. Increased productivity: Automation machinery enables faster production rates, shorter lead times, and reduced downtime.
  2. Improved quality: Automation in manufacturing processes minimizes human error and ensures consistent, high-quality products.
  3. Cost savings: By reducing labor and energy costs, as well as minimizing waste and rework, automation can lead to significant cost savings.
  4. Enhanced competitiveness: Embracing automation can give companies a competitive edge in the market by improving efficiency, quality, and innovation.
  5. Employee safety: Automation machinery can perform dangerous or repetitive tasks, reducing the risk of accidents and injuries, and ultimately creating a safer work environment for employees.

Getting Started with Automation

For manufacturing executives and plant managers looking to incorporate automation in their production processes, the first step is to assess the specific needs and goals of the organization. This will help determine which type of automation is best suited for the company's operations. Here are some steps to guide you through the process:

  1. Evaluate current processes: Identify bottlenecks, inefficiencies, and areas where automation can have the most significant impact on productivity and quality.
  2. Establish goals: Define the objectives of implementing automation in the manufacturing process, such as cost savings, improved quality, or increased production capacity.
  3. Research and select the right technology: Explore various automation machinery and systems to find the best fit for your specific requirements. Consider factors such as the degree of automation, adaptability, and scalability.
  4. Develop a phased implementation plan: Adopting automation in manufacturing can be a complex process. Break it down into manageable stages, starting with areas where the benefits will be most immediate and measurable.
  5. Invest in employee training: Ensure your workforce is adequately trained to operate and maintain the new automation machinery and systems.
  6. Monitor and optimize: Continuously evaluate the performance of the automated systems, making adjustments as necessary to optimize efficiency and productivity.

One way to facilitate the transition to manufacturing automation is by investing in software such as Factbird. This powerful manufacturing data software can help you monitor and control your production processes, enabling you to make informed decisions and drive continuous improvement. Additionally, Factbird's intuitive interface and advanced analytics capabilities make it an invaluable tool for managing automation in the manufacturing process.

Closing Thoughts

Automatization of production is no longer a futuristic concept; it's a reality that's revolutionizing the manufacturing industry. By embracing technology automation in manufacturing, companies can significantly enhance their productivity, product quality, and competitiveness. Whether through fixed, programmable, or flexible automation, investing in automation machinery and software such as Factbird can lead to substantial benefits and a future-proof manufacturing operation.

Manufacturers turn to Factbird to gain factory floor insights in real time