Manufacturing automation companies play a significant role in the fourth industrial revolution. These companies provide automation solutions to factories to help optimize their operations and increase efficiency. Automating production lines and other operations is the first step for manufacturing facilities on their way to becoming smart factories.
Smart factories are facilities that are completely automated and don’t require human workers. Autonomous factories will be commonplace in manufacturing’s future, and they all start with manufacturing automation companies.
What Is a Smart Factory?
Smart factories are fully automated facilities with autonomous capabilities. Not only are all processes and production operations in these factories automated, but they are also digitally connected. Smart factories use sensors to collect and relay performance data on machinery, devices, and production systems. These sensors are connected by a system that leverages several smart technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), automation, and cloud computing.
After data is collected with sensors, the system analyzes data to determine areas for improvement and identify issues. The system can then autonomously make decisions and implement adjustments, thereby increasing productivity and fixing problems without the need for any human intervention.
Smart factories have four levels, each of which adds another layer of autonomy. The first level is the foundation required to become a smart factory. At this level, data is available on production operations, but data analysis is conducted manually and consumes a lot of time — if it’s done at all. At the second level, data is more accessible and is visualized in a way that allows for more proactive data analysis. However, manual effort is still involved at this level.
The third level is where smart technologies really start to come into play. Machine learning and AI analyze the data at this level and provide insights to human workers. The system at this level is also able to perform predictive maintenance to help human workers proactively resolve issues before they become serious problems.
At level four, smart factory systems are able to autonomously analyze data, identify solutions, and take actions to fix problems or improve production processes without human intervention. This level of autonomy should be expected from the factories of the future, and manufacturers who want to prepare for this need to be actively implementing automation into their operations in the present.
How Automation Leads to Smart Factories
Manufacturing automation companies know that automation is necessary for businesses in the industry to not only thrive, but also to survive. Manufacturers who aren’t utilizing automation technologies risk becoming obsolete as the industry continues to advance. These businesses need to start thinking about automating now so they can be prepared for where the industry is headed.
As automation becomes more prevalent at manufacturing facilities, business leaders will continue to seek out new technologies that will help them remain competitive. This will eventually lead to the rise of smart, autonomous factories, and manufacturers who don’t automate risk being left behind.
Implementing automated processes and an automated production line is the first step on the path to a smart factory. Once all of a manufacturing facilities’ operations are connected through automation, it’s easier to digitally connect production.
The Benefits of Automating Operations
Manufacturers must embrace automation to stay relevant in the increasingly advanced manufacturing world. This necessity is due to the many benefits of implementing automation. An automated facility is significantly more productive compared to one that still uses mostly manual processes. In fact, automation can increase a facility’s productivity by nearly 50 percent, with most companies usually seeing at least a 30 percent improvement.
Combat the Manufacturing Worker Shortage and Skills Gap
Aside from productivity gains, there are other advantages to automation. For one, automation can help alleviate the current workforce shortage affecting the manufacturing industry. This technology is intended to automate repetitive, manual, and time-consuming tasks, which frees human workers to spend more time on value-added activities. By automating certain tasks, manufacturing facilities can be more productive with fewer workers.
Automating manual tasks can also help with the skills gap in manufacturing. Since automation allows human workers more time for value-added tasks, these workers can focus on gaining the skills necessary to complete more complex manufacturing jobs. This helps retain human workers, as employees who are able to grow within their companies and expand their skill sets are more engaged, and tend to be more satisfied with their jobs.
Realize a Return on Investment
The advantages of automation — and the positive effects it can have on manufacturing companies’ operations — make it an attractive option to leadership within these companies. One particular benefit that stands out to these manufacturers is the return on investment (ROI) offered by automation.
Implementing automation is an expensive undertaking for a company, especially with the significant upfront costs. But due to the increased productivity, improved production reliability, and enhanced quality that comes with automation, many manufacturing companies see a quick ROI when they automate. As long as manufacturers enhance inefficient processes with automation, rather than just implementing automation for the sake of having it, they will see the benefits reflected in their ROI.
All of these benefits are convincing manufacturers across the globe that automation is vital to their operations. Additionally, manufacturing customers are starting to expect their vendors to utilize this technology. Automation is currently transitioning from a nice-to-have option to a must-have for manufacturing facilities. And as factories become more automated, they will continue to advance.
The Role of Manufacturing Automation Companies
Partnering with a manufacturing automation company to find the right solution is an important part of the automation journey for manufacturing facilities. Finding an automation integration partner that takes the time to understand a business’s internal workflows and processes helps to ensure a successful automation implementation.
The ideal company will work closely with leadership and employees at a manufacturing facility to understand their pain points and identify areas where automation will have the most benefit. For example, what will deliver the highest productivity gains or provide the best return on investment or be the most helpful to human workers? It’s all dependent on what a manufacturing facility wants to get out of automation.
For the best possible relationship, manufacturing facilities should start the process of identifying pain points before bringing on an external manufacturing automation company. Manufacturers should work internally with their teams to determine where production operations can be improved, which will help them identify potential areas to automate. They should then partner with an automation vendor to learn what is possible and find the technologies needed to automate these areas.
The Factory of the Future
Manufacturers work with manufacturing automation companies to integrate automation technologies into the production systems and operations at their factories. Automated processes help to increase the efficiency of a production line, while also improving product quality and reducing waste. These and other benefits have led automation to be widely implemented within manufacturing facilities.
Due to the prevalence of automation today, it is becoming a necessary technology for manufacturing companies to remain competitive. With more and more factories becoming automated, manufacturers are having to find more innovative ways to get an edge on their competition. To do this, these manufacturers have embraced smart technologies, such as AI, to continue to enhance their factories’ automated systems.
The continual integration of these smart technologies into automated operations will lead to the factories of the future. Some of these smart factories already exist, and their presence will only continue to grow as the manufacturing industry continues to advance. Any manufacturing company looking to prepare for the rise of these factories of the future must start with automation.
To learn more about automation technologies and meet with representatives of manufacturing automation companies, attend HOUSTEX.