Each year, the manufacturing industry experiences greater demand for automation, increasing the global industrial automation market to over $200 billion. Due to the far-reaching benefits of automated manufacturing, the manufacturing industry is one of the main drivers of automation technology overall. These benefits include increased efficiency, productivity, product quality, and profits, while allowing employees to perform more complex work and reducing the risk of human error.

Learn more about the different ways automation can serve the manufacturing industry.

What Is Manufacturing Automation?

Manufacturing AutomationThe concept of automation has guided human development since prehistoric times, but it didn’t gain widespread popularity until the 1940s, when Ford’s engineering manager, D.S. Harder, coined the term “automation” to describe the company’s manufacturing plants and assembly-line processes. Today, in manufacturing, automation is the use of software-controlled machines to perform automated manufacturing processes.

This primarily involves letting machines perform the dangerous or repetitive tasks normally performed by humans. Automation doesn’t do away with human jobs; rather, it frees them up to apply to more creative or value-adding tasks, such as engineering and analysis to optimize production.

Automation trends in the manufacturing industry frequently occur in stages, but the overarching goal is to establish a continuous loop of information, with data flowing seamlessly from design engineers to post-production and maintenance technicians, then back to the design team. The original product design and relevant production processes can thus be continually refined in a self-corrective way. Virtual designs can more rapidly be converted to physical, ready-to-ship products.

What Are the Types of Manufacturing Automation?

There are several types of automation technologies. The three main automation categories relevant to the manufacturing industry are fixed, programmable, and flexible automation. It's important to know each type of automation so companies can choose the best automation solution for their needs.

  • Fixed Automation

    Fixed automation allows a specific item to be repeatedly produced the same way every time. Also called hard automation, fixed automation has a singular function, so the machinery used should be highly skilled and precise at executing this function.

    This type of automation is ideal for companies that need high volumes of identical products. It has a high barrier to entry and is commonly found in:

    • Assembly lines
    • Material conveyor systems
    • Chemical manufacturing processes

  • Programmable Automation

    Programmable automation is more adaptable for various use cases because the same machine can be controlled by different programs. With multiple possible functions, programmable automation can create numerous product types more efficiently than fixed automation systems. Its efficiency, however, depends largely on how quickly the system can be reprogrammed when changing functions.

    Batch production projects frequently use programmable automation to make multiple copies of different parts. Programmable automation is often the preferred means of controlling:

    • Industrial robots
    • Programmable logic controllers
    • Numerically controlled (NC) machine tools

  • Flexible Automation

    A flexible automation system is a hybrid between fixed and programmable systems. Flexible automation uses a computerized control system to manage material handling and production processes. Factory personnel program these computerized systems to control the machinery, or they can use HMIs (human-machine interfaces).

    Facilities that provide on-demand or real-time manufacturing services usually depend on flexible automation to operate:

    • Assembly lines
    • Material-handling systems
    • Robotics

    Flexible automation gives manufacturing plants the most versatility, letting them combine fixed automation and programmable automation to optimize their facility for maximum efficiency and productivity.

What Are the Benefits of Manufacturing Automation?

Automation leads to numerous benefits for manufacturing companies. These benefits then improve company-wide operations, impacting the future of manufacturing itself.

Lower Costs

Lower Costs

The initial investment in automation quickly pays off in the long term. Automation technology cuts long-term production costs dramatically, allowing each machine to accomplish the work of three or more employees, without breaks, while easily handling multiple projects simultaneously.

Increased Safety

Increased Safety

Automation improves worker safety by preventing people from working close to dangerous processes and materials. Human error is also reduced, which improves product quality and customer safety. Enhanced product quality and worker safety reduce legal liability and recalls, improving the company’s bottom line.

Increased Productivity

Increased Productivity

Automated manufacturing lines can run at consistent speeds around the clock. Production processes become more efficient, require minimal oversight, and free up labor for jobs like research and development. Designs go from prototypes to full production runs more quickly, and manufacturers can test new products without disrupting normal operations.

Improved Quality

Improved Quality

Because machines can perform most manufacturing tasks more accurately than people, product quality improves. Along with greater product uniformity comes much lower product defect rates, reducing material waste and lost production time. If there are inferior products, process automation allows you to identify and remove them from your assembly line and replace them accordingly.

Improved Stock and Scheduling Data

Improved Stock and Scheduling Data

Real-time data more accurately monitors inventory levels, simplifying stock replenishment and order fulfillment processes while refining production run schedules. By using sensors and robots to track the movement of goods throughout the supply chain, decision-making and ROI improves.

What Is the Future of Automation in Manufacturing?

As the global population is expected to reach 10 billion people by 2050, the demand for goods is steadily increasing. Companies that sell manufacturing automation equipment must help manufacturers across industries meet growing demand with faster and more efficient production methods. They must do so even in the face of labor shortages, weak supply chains, and scarce materials.

Automation is the key to addressing these challenges. Real-time data monitoring will allow automation programming to continuously improve manufacturing processes, and generative design will play a more active role in speeding up and refining product development.

Today, programmed machines are highly effective for known, repetitive tasks. The next frontier is not only to program computers to perform actions but also to analyze data and optimize performance based on unexpected events. This reality is coming closer to fruition, as machine learning strengthens manufacturing processes with the aid of vast networks of sensors. Robotic process automation (RPA) software also advances automation technologies by monitoring and mimicking human actions to more effectively automate.

Whatever the future holds for the manufacturing automation industry, one thing is certain: companies advancing automation technology today will play a pivotal role in how the manufacturing industry operates in the coming years.

Learn More About AMD’s Automation Solutions for Manufacturers

At Advanced Manufacturing Development (AMD), our more than 100 engineers and technicians specialize in developing new automation technologies, from self-contained individual assembly stations to complete, 100% automated manufacturing lines. Our staff leverages decades of experience and has delivered over 1,500 projects to date.

Request a quote or contact us to begin your manufacturing automation project.