Automation in manufacturing

From task automation to fully automated complex processes
Monika Stando
Monika Stando
Marketing & Growth Lead
October 06
9 min
Table of Contents

Modernity brings manufacturing to a more advanced level. Technological development allows the implementation of advanced production management systems and process optimization, and automation has its share in this.

From task automation to fully automated factories, Industry 4.0 and technology capabilities are enabling the optimization of manufacturing processes. The lack of workforce in the market, the need to compete and be productive make manufacturers look for technology solutions. What is automation in manufacturing, what are its types, and does it always require a huge undertaking – read about this and smart approaches to manufacturing process automation.

What is automation in manufacturing?

Automation in manufacturing refers to the use of technology (software or robotic tools) for automating production systems and processes. It aims to improve productivity by enhancing production capacity and/or reducing costs, in many cases both. However, the benefits are much greater (more on this later in the article).

Here are some recent statistics about automation in manufacturing:

  1. Automation is expected to raise global productivity by 0.8% to 1.4% annually (Eagle Technologies, Windward Studios, Forbes).
  2. The global factory automation market is projected to grow from $214.7 billion in 2020 to $384.8 billion by 2025, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 12.4% (Zipdo).
  3. Approximately 50% of work can be automated in today’s age, and 31% of businesses have fully automated at least one function (Paperform).
  4. Around 30% of all workers are potentially exposed to advanced technologies used for automation purposes, with manufacturing workers much more exposed (U.S. Census Bureau).
  5. The global market for industrial automation is expected to reach $326.14 billion by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 7.5% from 2020 to 2027 (Market Splash).
  6. Fifty-four percent of manufacturing companies now use Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) partnerships in a bid to develop standardized industrial IoT platforms (McKinsey).

These statistics highlight the growing importance and impact of automation in the manufacturing industry.

Different types of manufacturing automation

From thermostat control to fully automated warehouses. Automation has a wide range of uses and is becoming an invisible partner in everyday life. Automation in manufacturing is used in a variety of industries and can be categorized as:

  • Fixed automation
  • Programmable automation
  • Flexible automation

Fixed automation

Also called hard automation, involves the use of purpose-built technology to automate a repetitive task or process or assembly operation sequence. Overall, the operational sequence is not complex, involving basic functions such as rotary or linear motion, or both.

The benefits are:

• increased production speed,
• lower unit cost and,
• automation of the material handling process.

Automation repeats the same tasks with identical units. Associated with large volume, single-part production. By far the most noticeable limitation is that fixed automation modules require replacement when new routines need to be performed.

Programmable automation

Programmable automation allows programs to be designed and deployed into the system to implement new processes. An example could be a traditional thermostat. You set the temperature, and the mechanisms consistently perform the programmed action.

Unlike fixed automation, programmable automation enables reprogramming for different tasks once a batch of one type is completed. The main advantage is greater flexibility in dealing with changing project requirements.

Although it is best suited to batch production, it produces fewer units than fixed or flexible automation due to the switching time between functions.

Flexible automation

It is an augmentation of programmable automation. It is typical of producing a wide range of products with almost zero downtime and without a complicated manual change procedure, which in turn means increased production rates. Flexible automation can switch between tasks. Modern self-learning thermostats can be examples of flexible automation. Users do not need to reprogram mechanisms to change their performance.

Flexible Automation allows automatic and quick changes to programmed sequences. Associated with real-time or on-demand production. It allows for a variety of procedure results and high productivity.

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Benefits of manufacturing automation

Automation has been present for some time, shaping the way manufacturers operate. From early robotic creations to advanced and autonomous machinery, technological developments have made it possible to replace heavy, often dangerous or tedious work with machines. Nowadays software and hardware can bring the enterprise into the digitized era. Industry 4.0 and business automation carry a lot of optimization and benefits. These can be mentioned:

  • Reduced downtime
  • Accelerated operations
  • Better maintenance scheduling
  • Faster document and information flow
  • Better response to market challenges
  • Improved decision-making process and response time.

However, the benefits are measurably greater. They relate to greater competitiveness in both the long and short term. Automation in manufacturing introduces new competencies, a change in processes and management approaches.

Material monitoring tools in the warehouse or devices at the workstation support reducing downtime, and performance monitoring help make smarter business decisions. Real-time data and automated information flow help producers gain a clearer sense of lead times and provide more accurate estimates and schedules.

The list is long and the results of automation depend on its scope and goals, a good strategy and approach to the whole undertaking.

Get an Expert View on how system integration in retail solves issues with inventory management

Under “automation in manufacturing” will be either the implementation of off-the-shelf inventory management software, the integration or update of existing systems and machines (the associated automation of tasks), dedicated solutions, or the comprehensive approach that is part of the digital transformation. In the vast sea of solutions, the question that remains is How to approach manufacturing automation?

Approaching manufacturing automation

Not having the proper skills, communicating the goals of the project are only two out of the thirteen most common reasons why companies fail at digital advancement listed by Forbes. Not surprisingly, without the proper knowledge and familiarity with process mapping and translating those processes into the IT vocabulary, ventures to streamline and automate processes in manufacturing fail.

The environment is changing dynamically, and with technology and the right approach, you can adapt faster. For example, the current energy crisis is forcing many manufacturers to switch production to the night shift, when energy is cheaper. Programmed and automated production allows quick adjustment to ongoing demands.

Procurement, order processing, supply chain, customer service, production, operations – the room for automation is limitless, however, it must be approached properly.

Therefore, cooperative efforts and consultations are needed. Adequate mapping, identification of goals and needs, evaluation of those needs, and then roadmap development and proper execution help to eliminate many entry objections and identify potential further threats. Automation pre-planning allows for adequate cost and time estimation of the venture.

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And what if manufacturers are willing to automate but they lack a fresh perspective on the status quo? There is a way to do this – a prior-collaboration workshop to examine the target organization and its processes to identify areas for improvement. During such an event, IT experts together with representatives of the organization analyze the condition of the processes and IT infrastructure to see in which areas and to what extent there is room for improvement. This enables parties to get an insight into potential blockers and engineer IT solutions according to the actual business needs.

What about industry-specific requirements?

There are times when an IT partner company needs to demonstrate its credibility before entering into a partnership. Highly competitive industries such as automotive may require associates to provide extra proof of security policies. This is where certification comes to the rescue. A valid TISAX certification is essential for the automotive industry.

Highly sensitive industries such as Life Science, on the other hand, may require proof of competence. While business process mapping will be sufficient in many cases, there are industries that, by the nature of their business, require more from their IT partners.

Learn more about IT systems validation in the Life Science industry

Manufacturing reinvented with automation

Manufacturing process automation is a norm. It is determined by scope, technological capabilities, corresponding approach and calculation of opportunity costs. One can integrate two external systems with the SAP ERP accordingly and integrate the ERP system with machines on the production lines.

Smart solutions and modern technologies overcome many pain points, such as recurring issues with keeping stock status always up to date.

The possibilities are endless. Not only Life Science can prosper with a modernized and automated order management platform. No errors, no manual steps, no delays in order processing are available for any business.

Digitizing processes of clothes manufacturing helps achieve better efficiency and gain greater transparency. This and other automation solutions can be successfully implemented in manufacturing. And when that is done, perhaps hyperautomation will be the next step.

Industry 4.0 and modern technologies, among others, have been developed to meet the broad needs of various fields. Got any questions? Or maybe would you like to discuss your needs? Get in touch, we’re here to help.

Monika Stando
Monika Stando
Marketing & Growth Lead
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