What is Manufacturing Automation?
Manufacturing automation is the use of technologies such as equipment and software to automate production processes. The benefits of manufacturing include the following:
● Reduced downtime
● Predictable maintenance
● Improved decision making
How Manufacturing Automation Works
The goal of manufacturing automation is to improve efficiency by reducing costs and increasing production simultaneously. This is achieved by automating key aspects of the manufacturing process.
As edge compute and network technology evolve, more manufacturers are adopting Industry 4.0 to dramatically improve their automation efforts. For example, flexible automation systems can use private 5G networks to quickly manage new order requests, download large design files, and accurately estimate fulfillment time.
In the past manufacturing, automation had many limitations, especially when it came to custom orders and nuanced details. Today with artificial intelligence and machine learning, businesses can process custom orders with little to no downtime and offer solutions their competitors simply can’t fulfill.
Types of Manufacturing Automation
Not all manufacturing automation is created equal. Companies can use either fixed, programmable, or flexible automation to meet demand and achieve their goals.
Fixed automation uses fixed tools and production sequences. This type of automation is often used for high-demand products. Fixed automation is the most costly type of automation, as it involves a large initial investment and extensive engineering. This type of automation requires a high level of skill. Despite its high initial investment, it can produce high-volume products.
Alternatively, programmable automationinvolves programming the system to produce products in varying quantities andvarieties. Programmable automation is best used when producing variations of aproduct. The main drawback to this form of automation is that changeovers inprogrammable automation can cause significant downtime.
Flexible automation eliminates downtime caused by changeovers by handling changeovers automatically. Flexible automation allows for on-demand production based on real-time data. Businesses that manufacture bulk products but also get custom requests can use flexible automation to fulfill both bulk and custom orders without impacting efficiency.
Manufacturing Automation Use Cases
From proactive maintenance to inventory management, automation can be applied to various stages of the production cycle.
Manufacturing automation can help streamline processes that were once labor-intensive and time-consuming. For example, it can automate inventory management by automatically collecting data on vendor invoices and transmitting it to the correct system. The process can be scheduled to run at a specific time, and the results can be viewed on a dashboard.
Thanks to IIoT sensors, manufacturers can now gain a deeper understanding of their uptime, efficiency, and maintenance needs. These IoT sensors continuously collect data on various aspects of the manufacturing process to help generate timely insights and operational analytics.
Businesses can pair this live data with automation to eliminate downtime in the wake of machine failures. For example, IoT sensors can monitor the accuracy of machines and automatically issue calibration when needed. In the event that remediation cannot be automated, the system can generate a maintenance request with the appropriate information and priority level.
Automation and Orchestration at Scale
Automation enables enterprises to scale beyond a single site and quickly launch new warehouse locations in a controlled and replicable manner. For example, administrators can onboard new hardware with application-aware networks. This automatically identifies the device to determine its role, permissions, and QoS settings.
Benefits of Manufacturing Automation
While manufacturing automation can require a great deal of planning, its benefits far outweigh the time invested. Businesses can expect to improve worker safety, quality control, and overall efficiency with automation in place.
Automation also increases worker safety. By replacing jobs that are risky or repetitive, robots can help reduce accidents. As a result, human workers can focus on more valuable and less hazardous tasks.
Furthermore, automation can improve the quality of products and the overall client experience. Automated systems operate more efficiently than manual labor and can function around the clock without requiring maintenance.
Manufacturing automation is especially useful in industries where consistency is essential. For instance, medical manufacturers must ensure product quality because human errors can lead to catastrophic effects. Additionally, manufacturing automation helps companies meet strict production standards, increase customer satisfaction, and develop new products more efficiently.
Automation allows manufacturers to cut production costs while maintaining a high level of quality. The result is a reduced need for raw materials and better products, resulting in a greater return on investment. Many companies have been using automation for years to create products with better quality and faster production times. Automation can increase productivity, reduce overhead, and reduce manufacturing waste.
Challenges in Manufacturing Automation
Despite the many advantages of manufacturing automation, manufacturers are facing a number of challenges. These challenges include a lack of experienced workers to operate the machinery, high transition costs, and process complexity. If you're a manufacturer interested in making the most of automation, it's important to understand the common obstacles and how to overcome them.
While automation may replace repetitive tasks and entry-level positions, it opens the need for new skilled workers to oversee the automation process. Businesses should invest in skilled IT professionals to oversee security, patches, and management of the automated system. Even with this additional IT investment many organizations still see cost savings in their labor expenses.
Manufacturing automation typically requires an upfront investment. Servers, network infrastructure, and new machinery can quickly consume a budget if done all at once. The good news is manufacturers can gradually adopt manufacturing automation over time. New sensors can be installed over the year along with infrastructure upgrades that slowly increase the coverage area of the warehouse.
Unorganized automation creates complexity that can lead to security vulnerabilities, increased labor costs, and overall process inefficiency. The best way to reduce complexity in manufacturing automation is to start with a detailed plan executed by industry experts. As mentioned earlier, automation doesn’t have to be done all at once, but it does have to follow standards to remain consistent across the enterprise.
Getting Started with Manufacturing Automation
Computer networks have become the backbone of manufacturing automation. Many manufacturers choose private 4G LTE/5G networks to support their automation. Cellular networks have a variety of benefits that cater to manufacturing sites such as:
● Extended coverage for industrial and manufacturing environments
● High bandwidth to support large volumes of data
● Low network latency to support real-time analytics and autonomous robotics
● Hardened security and simple provisioning through SIM authentication
● Protection from wireless interference using shared and licensed cellular spectrum
● Complete visibility into and control over network resources and end devices
Manufacturing Automation Made Easy With Celona
Celona helps manufacturers automate their processes through reliable private 5G networks. Through the simple yet powerful 5G LAN architecture, manufacturers can quickly and easily deploy all the requisite hardware and software components throughout their existing network environment to start automating in hours, not days.
Celona’s 5G LAN solution integrates directly with existing IT network architectures allowing administrators to easily integrate and synchronize QoS across the enterprise from a cloud-based console. Behind the scenes, the Celona Edge provides advanced traffic management, proactive monitoring to ensure network service level objectives, such as throughput, packet loss and latency requirements, are consistently being met.
Celona uses cloud networking principles to make implementing 5G LANs an out-of-box experience. Deployment can be performed alongside existing wireless and LAN infrastructure, without interrupting business operations.
If you’re looking to automate your manufacturing process, Celona can help. Check out our network planner to estimate the size of your 5G LAN on a private cellular spectrum, or test-drive Celona’s unique solution for yourself with a free trial.