Automation is key a concept for the 4.0 industry and is a growing value among industrial companies. According to a publication Fortune Business Insights, the industrial automation market worldwide reached 157.04 billion dollars in 2018 and is expected to reach 296.70 billion dollars in 2026, almost twice as much as a year ago.
The interest of organizations in technologies that facilitate automation such as IoT, Artificial Intelligence (AI) or Blockchain is due to the benefits they bring. It represents outstanding advantages in many respects, but above all in terms of time and cost savings.
To take advantage of these benefits, companies today need to carry out industrial automation processes through industrial automation systems.
What Is An Industrial Automation System
Industrial automation systems are systems used to control and monitor a process, machine or device in a computerized manner that usually fulfills repetitive functions or tasks. They are intended to operate automatically in order to reduce and improve human work in the industry.
These systems replace the repetitive and mechanical tasks mainly performed by one person and the decisions he or she makes in the manufacturing process. This is done through the use of logical programming commands and powerful machinery.
Industrial automation systems bring various benefits to organizations.
Benefits of An Industrial Automation System
According to different companies such as Sure Controls and Big Sky Engineering and the Encyclopedia Britannica (in its article Advantages and disadvantages of automation), organizations implement a system of these characteristics because of the following advantages they provide:
1. Productivity. These systems make automation possible for factories and industrial processes, allowing a continuous mass production 24/7. 24 hours a day, seven days a week, which improves productivity and reduces assembly times.
2. Quality. By means of adaptive control and monitoring in different stages and industrial processes, these systems are useful in eliminating human error and thus improve the quality and homogeneity of the products offered. The performance is not reduced after several hours of continuous work.
3. Greater consistency. Machines and computers work at a constant and continuous pace. Therefore, automated production processes have a longer duration, stability and solidity when managed with an automation system.
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4. Flexibility. Implementing a new task in a traditional production chain involves hours or days of user training. On the other hand, with an automated system, reprogramming a robot or machine is a simple and fast process that provides greater flexibility in the production process.
5. More precise information. Automation of data collection improves accuracy and reduces costs. Such increased accuracy enables company managers to make better decisions.
6. Safety. It is safer to use robots on production lines with dangerous working conditions for humans. In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Act was passed in 1970 with the aim of improving job safety and protecting employees. Since its passage, it has promoted automation and robotics in the country’s factories and the use of automation systems.
7. Cost reduction. Although the initial investment in industrial automation systems might be rather high, implementing this technology will translate into a reduction of data analytics costs. Furthermore, thanks to this automated data analysis, the risk of machine failure and service interruptions is reduced to a minimum.
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8. Improved working conditions. Workers in a factory where an industrial automation system has been implemented work fewer hours and spend their time on high value-added tasks.
9. Increased added value. Automation systems free employees from having to perform tedious and routine functions. When the action of machines and computers frees employees from performing these functions, they can carry out more value-added tasks in other areas of the company that provide greater benefit.
10. Improved human capacity. The systems that companies implement to automate their services not only perform the tasks that a human being would do, but they are capable of performing functions that exceed the capabilities of a real person. They are better in size, weight, speed and resistance, among other characteristics.
Types Of Industrial Automation System
Companies that choose to start an industrial automation process have different types of automation available depending on the different degrees of adoption, the product range and the volume of production.
Hard automation or Fixed Automation
This refers to an automation process in which the robot or machine has been designed to carry out a specific, highly repetitive task and for a very high production volume.
These processes are fixed and cannot undergo any changes, but they are very fast, precise, safe and with high production rates.
The benefits that this type of automation brings to the industry are ideal for processes with a high load volume and low work variability.
This type of automation is the most economical.
It is related to those pieces of equipment that are designed to adapt to a wide variety of product configurations.
The process is controlled by a computer that can be programmed to adjust its operation to different products.
It is very useful when an industry manufactures different items that require different and varied configurations.
This type of automation has a higher cost than hard automation and operates at a lower speed.
It is particularly suitable for facilities engaged in the manufacture of a limited range of similar products which are executed in batches.
This type of automation can be divided into two: Programmable Automation or Flexible Automation.
The automated industrial processes that fall within this category are controlled by a program consisting of a set of coded instructions for the system to interpret.
New software can be used in these processes to produce new products, since the system is completely flexible. There is the possibility of reconfiguring and adjusting the equipment at both the software and hardware level.
It is recommended to use this type of automation in industries with low production, since the process of reprogramming the machine to adapt it to new products is complex and requires a specific time. For this reason, the processes are carried out in batches.
Flexible Automation makes it possible to configure a machine to suit a new product in a short time. In this way, virtually no time is lost in changing configuration from one item to another.
Since with this type of automation no time is wasted on reprogramming the system or altering the physical configuration of the machines, there is no need to carry out the products in separate batches. It is recommended to use this type of automation in medium productions.
Thanks to the implementation of Flexible Automation, production is continuous and can be adapted to the different types of products faced by an industrial plant.
Industrial Automation Systems
Automation eliminates the necessity for manual work of a factory, but still requires operators to monitor machines and carry out maintenance. In contrast, an industrial automation system no longer requires human intervention in the process.
In this sense, when a company implements such a system, it allows the entire production process to be carried out from start to finish, without human assistance.
Different automation systems can be used based on different functions to be developed:
- Artificial Neural Networks. It is a mathematical or computational model that emulates neural connections and, as in these biological networks, the structure of the network adapts to changes depending on the information. They are used to classify relationships and identify patterns in data sets. Some of their applications are email spam filters, control systems, pattern recognition in systems (radar), spoken or written text and automated financial trading systems.
- Distributed Control System. In these systems, controls are not centralized and are expanded by the system. These controls are expanded according to the part of the system to be monitored. They are used in traffic light control systems, oil refineries and power stations.
- Human-machine Interface. These systems depend on human intervention to function. Computers and ATMs are an example of human-machine interface systems.
- Supervisory Control & Data Acquisition System. This system can be composed of other systems such as a human-machine interface connected to remote terminal units, which work to translate sensor signals into understandable data. This is a system that completely controls the manufacturing site and even different production plants. They are very similar to distributed control systems. The main difference is that in SCADA systems the control is not done in real time. However, the line that differs between the two systems is very diffuse and they are often used in similar applications.
- Programmable Logic Controller. These are systems that work in real time and control machines in an industrial production line. PLCs are small programmable computers that control and automate processes in real time. They are designed to control multiple input and output signals. These systems have different applications and therefore have different uses as they control the operating logic of machines, plants and industrial processes, etc.
Industrial automation systems are very diverse and respond to different needs. With the aid of Nexus Integra, you will be able to manage, operate and exploit the data generated by products, machines, production plants and corporate systems, thanks to the different industrial automation systems, such as the aforementioned SCADA, but in the case of Nexus Integra these are managed in real time, which allows you to generate value and take advantage of the large amount of data generated by the companies at the moment.