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What Is Smart Automation for Manufacturing?

By OTC Insights Team on November 23, 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.

In the endless quest to improve efficiency and reduce costs, manufacturers are constantly on the lookout to identify new techniques and technologies. They need systems that will help them ship more products at a higher quality and at a lower cost.

Seems like a simple goal, right? The challenge for many business leaders is finding technology that not only meets their needs but can be incorporated into existing processes.

Can it perform an action at the right time, with the right technique, and match the other complex processes going on? Adding a new robot arm doesn’t really help if the robot doesn’t know what to do and when to do it, or if you need four programmers on hand to make it work.

That’s where smart automation can help.

Make Automation a Reality! Discover automation tools to increase efficiency.

What Is Smart Automation?

Automation is the use of technology or automated systems to largely replace human activity in a process.

For example, in your home you may have a thermostat that maintains a steady temperature by turning your air conditioner on or off, without human intervention. In manufacturing, an assembly line which carries a product through production steps is an example of automation. As a product moves through the steps of production, the line automatically directs it where it needs to be.

Smart Automation in Manufacturing

Smart automation adds another element to the system: decision-making based on input and information to provide more autonomy. With smart automation, the system can assess production to determine what action to take and perform independently of human control.

In the example of the assembly line, some systems use the speed of the line to ensure there is enough time for each step. In that situation, the system isn’t determining the action, it’s following a pre-set sequence. However, by adding a process-tracking sensor, the assembly line can move products independently based on the status of the work. The sensor can determine when work is complete, assess what needs to be done next, and direct the work to the next operation. More control is given to the automation system, so it requires less human intervention.

Smart automation links a programmed control element to automated equipment, giving the system additional independence through preprogrammed logic. Data is collected by the system, then analyzed, and the next sequence of actions is determined by the analysis.

The Benefits of Smart Automation in Manufacturing

While many associate automation technologies with an army of robots taking the jobs of human workers on the factory floor, that’s not the reality of modern manufacturing automation.

Automation today supplements existing operations and processes. It works just like any other manufacturing tool, aiding workers in completing work as efficiently as possible. This means that there will be tasks and jobs that are better suited to automation, and there are others where manual work or human intervention is necessary.

In this way, the combination of humans and machines enables more work to be completed than either the human worker or the machine working alone could accomplish.

Adding “Smart” to Automation Systems

The addition of smart elements to manufacturing automation extends the scope and capability of the work handled by automation. It allows human workers to focus on higher-priority work and can increase the velocity of work as production moves, without the need for human intervention.

There are several ways that manufacturers embrace and use smart automation. These include:

  • Leveraging machine-to-machine communication: Machine-to-machine communication is the process of using APIs and integrations between machines to complete work. Data from one machine instructs the work of the next machine in the process, creating a closed-loop, multi-step production system that doesn’t require human intervention.
  • Utilizing production data to optimize efficiency: Your smart systems and sensors will be collecting data that can be used to optimize production. Machine learning can analyze the data to identify opportunities for improvement. For example, you can trigger changes to machines such as air compressors or ovens to increase energy efficiency.
  • Improving supply chain and purchasing: As you collect production data from your smart automation tools, you can track inventory levels to automatically resupply your necessary materials.
  • Increase safety in production: By utilizing a sensor, manufacturers can automatically shut down a system when there is a danger or risk present. For example, a temperature that is outside the recommended operating range.

While every production facility and every operation are different, these are just a few of the ways that manufacturers are incorporating smart tools into their automation systems.

Get Started with Smart Automation Manufacturing at OTC

If you have questions about how smart systems can enhance your current manufacturing automation strategy or want to know how automation can increase efficiency or solve problems for your current operations, then contact OTC Industrial Technologies.

With experts in automation on staff, locations across the United States, and relationships with leading automation manufacturers, OTC offers turnkey, end-to-end automation solutions. Rather than struggling to make it work alone, partner with the experts on your next project.

Contact OTC today to learn more.