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Everything You Need to Know About Automation in Manufacturing

By OTC Insights Team on April 19, 2022

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OTC Insights Team

Established in 1963, OTC Industrial Technologies is one of the largest industrial distributors & service providers in the United States. We're committed to seeing industrial operations advance through expert technical solutions & unmatched support using our years of experience.

Over the last decade, the manufacturing industry has grown exponentially due to technological advancements, supply chain efficiencies (at least, before a pandemic), and consumer demands, leading to increased operational control. However, this increase has uncovered various challenges not seen before the digital transformation.

Shop floors across the world are met with the challenge of improving plant efficiency by increasing production while reducing per-unit costs. In addition, they are being pushed to lessen their carbon footprints and create sustainable production processes. It feels like an almost impossible task.

To overcome these obstacles, manufacturers can’t continue with business as usual, so they are turning to automation.

What Is Manufacturing Automation?

Manufacturing automation is the use of technology, software, and equipment to automate manufacturing processes and production.

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Striking a balance between human capital and automation increases an organization’s ability to achieve a common goal: greater efficiency. By adopting fixed, programmable, or flexible automation, manufacturers can meet their production goals.

Types of Manufacturing Automation

Each type of automation is tailored to different aspects of the production process. The type of automation utilized by an organization will vary depending on the organizational structure and manufacturing process.

Fixed Automation

Also known as “hard automation,” fixed automation is preset to perform a single task, ideally for a particular product or product style. Typically programmed at an individual machine level, it is not easy or cost efficient to alter, so this form of automation is suitable for single-part production or high production rates.

Examples of Fixed Automation
  • Automated assembly machines
  • Web handling and converting systems
  • Chemical manufacturing systems
  • Material conveyor systems
  • Machining transfer lines
  • Paint and coating automation processes
  • Assembly lines

Programmable Automation

For production that’s batch focused, programmable automation is recommended.

Programmable automation is reconfigurable based on the commands coded into the system. This ability allows for product styles to vary and reconfigure for specific batches or jobs. However, the number of configurations will force a downtime which can become costly. Organizations should be aware of the batch sizes and lead times before considering programmable automation.

Examples of Programmable Automation
  • Programmable logic controllers
  • Industrial robots
  • Numerically controlled machine tools

Flexible Automation

If your organization sees an array of product types, flexible automation allows this feature simultaneously.

Flexible automation refers to the automatic changeover of equipment that enables changes in production depending on the type or quantity of the product. Inherently, various products can be produced without a manual reconfiguration.

Examples of Flexible Automation
  • Robotics
  • Assembly systems
  • Material handling systems

Benefits of Automation in Manufacturing

Manufacturers understand that for Industry 4.0 to be possible, automation will play a large role. To meet production goals and improve operational efficiency, by partnering technological advancements such as machine learning and artificial intelligence with automation, the possibilities are endless. Here are some of the benefits of using automation today:

  1. Reduced production time: Machines can work faster and more efficiently than humans. Therefore, production time can be drastically reduced.
  2. Increased production: The decrease in production time will lead to an increase in total production over a period of time. In addition, the machines can operate at quicker speeds compared to the average employee.
  3. Eliminate human error: The reality is, humans make mistakes. Taking the human element out of the process will inherently reduce the number of errors in production.
  4. Increased workplace safety: Alongside human error is the risk of human safety in regard to the process. Removing the manual aspect increases safety for employees since they won’t be put in harm’s way.
  5. Improved product quality: Machines are able to be programmed to produce a repeatable process within certain criteria, which increases accuracy while minimizing product defects or errors in production.
  6. Lower operating costs: After the initial investment, automation can save an organization money over the long term. In many cases, automation can act as multiple employees and serve several purposes.
  7. Reduced downtime: Having systems in place to track inventory, materials, and performance can reduce unexpected issues and overall downtime.

Your Automation Equipment Manufacturer

Automation is shaping the industry and will continue to be a driving force. OTC Industrial Technologies has dedicated specialists across all types of manufacturing industries. Working alongside each other, we can help deliver industry-specific solutions to drive your business. Get started with automation by reaching out to one of our experts today.