Manufacturing industry is rapidly changing, and what’s trendy today may no longer be so in the near future – all thanks to the rise of automation. But how did automation become a trend businesses hanker after so fervently?
Well, first of all, automation helps reduce labor costs for manufacturers. For example, on average, automating a task in manufacturing can save up to 16 hours of human work per week, which translates into massive cost savings laborwise. Second of all, automation increases efficiency and productivity.
And while some still question the positive impact of automation on the global manufacturing market, the automation trends we are witnessing today are set to gain a foothold in the manufacturing industry in the coming years. Here are the top ten automation trends redefining the manufacturing industry in 2024 and beyond.
1. Material handling automation
Material handling is one of the most crucial areas where manufacturers should seek to improve their operations. Automation integrates in various material handling systems, such as a gravity conveyor, in the form of speed control, monitoring sensors, automated sorting and diverting, automated power on/off and diagnostics, and everywhere else where there’s a need for more efficient operations with less human errors.
Automated material handling systems ensure a more optimized movement of materials/goods in the manufacturing process, reducing manufacturing lead times and translating into significant cost savings.
Through automation, material handling systems easily integrate with warehouse and inventory management systems for a more efficient and streamlined manufacturing process.
2. Automation in quality control
As quality control is the key element in the manufacturing process, streamlining quality control should be the top priority for manufacturers. Industrial manufacturers often rely on various tools like position transducers to support their manufacturing processes. These tools are lately being complemented by automation features to further improve the quality control process.
For instance, automation enables real-time adjustment of the object’s position based on changing conditions. This feature is especially valuable in the manufacturing of critical systems where response to variations in position must be instantaneous.
3. Increasing adoption of industrial robots
The use of robots in the manufacturing industry is no longer a novelty. First robot was introduced in industrial manufacturing in 1962 in the United States. Today, robots are used to perform a variety of tasks, from transporting goods to assembling products.
Industrial robots are capable of performing a large variety of tasks, from simple, repetitive actions to more complex and precision-requiring processes. And with the advancement of the automation technologies, robots become more and more versatile and reliable, handling even the most complex tasks.
Industrial robots are widely utilized to perform assembly operations, basic welding, picking and packing, material handling, painting and coating, machining and grinding and many more repetitive in nature tasks.
4. Advancement in machine vision
Machine vision is a technology that enables computers to understand and interpret visual information. The process is similar to that of how humans interpret images. Machine vision is an automated process that involves the use of cameras, sensors and image processing algorithms to process and analyze visual information and make a decision.
Key components of machine vision include cameras and sensors, image processing algorithms, pattern recognition tools, dimension measuring and motion analysis tools, and any other elements that assist in interpreting visual information into meaningful data.
Machine vision is widely used in manufacturing to conduct visual inspection, examine products for defects, measure the dimensions of manufactured parts accurately, conduct colour inspection and more.
Integration of machine vision technology in manufacturing helps achieve better quality products and more efficient production workflow.
5. Collaborative use of robots
While some manufacturing processes are fully handled by robots, some are a collaborative effort between the human workforce and the robots. Collaborative robots (or cobots) are machines that work alongside humans in a shared workspace.
The use of cobots in manufacturing has presented a shift towards more human-centered automation. Cobots offer an increased safety, flexibility and improved efficiency in the manufacturing process.
Cobots massively contribute to the manufacturing process by automating a number of repetitive tasks while also ensuring a safe work environment. They can be easily programmed to perform certain tasks, they are adaptable to change, they offer increased productivity and a significant return on investment.
6. AI in manufacturing
Artificial Intelligence has had a huge impact on many aspects of the manufacturing industry, making it more efficient and streamlined. Apart from optimizing production planning and scheduling, AI helped streamline supply chain processes by analyzing historical data and information fed to it in real-time.
AI helps ensure proper equipment operation by predicting the likely equipment failure through the analysis of the data supplied by equipment sensors. Such predictive maintenance helps reduce plant downtime and prevent unexpected equipment breakdowns.
AI is equally leveraged in quality control processes. AI-powered machine learning algorithms are used to inspect goods moving along the production line to identify defective items and remove them from the production line.
7. IoT and connectivity
Much like artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things has had a significant impact on the manufacturing industry, too. The IoT introduced connectivity and real-time data analytics in the manufacturing, increasing productivity and efficiency of the production process.
Just as AI facilitates predictive equipment maintenance, IoT is capable of collecting real-time data on equipment performance and further analyzing this data to predict potential equipment failures. Such predictive maintenance helps reduce equipment downtime and translates into massive cost savings for manufacturers.
Through the use of wearable IoT devices, such as helmets and sensors, IoT technology contributes to improved employee safety in a way that it monitors environmental conditions and detects potential hazards.
8. 3D printing
3D printing has revolutionized various aspects of the manufacturing industry. Also known as additive manufacturing, 3D printing is a technology that involves creating three-dimensional objects from digital models.
The technology significantly speeds up the product development cycle by allowing designers and engineers to create rapid product prototypes.
3D printing is a huge technological leap forward from traditional manufacturing methods thanks to the freedom of design it provides. The technology enables the creation of complex shapes and designs that traditional manufacturing cannot offer.
3D printing facilitates on-demand production where items can be produced on an as-needed basis, eliminating the need for large product inventories and reducing storage costs for manufacturers.
9. Augmented Reality (AR) & Virtual Reality (VR)
Among many other industries, AR and VR found their applications in manufacturing, too. The core value of augmented reality is in its ability to overlay digital information onto the physical environment. AR technology assists with product assembly and equipment maintenance, employee training and onboarding, product quality control and inspection, and product design and prototyping.
VR technology assists in virtual product prototyping. This technology allows designers and engineers to evaluate the product and identify design flaws before the prototype is sent for mass production.
VR has brought about a major change in the realm of employee training. Employees can learn to use the manufacturing equipment and respond to emergency situations using simulators, which are set up in a virtual environment, improving their proficiency without the need to deploy the actual physical equipment.
10. Big data analytics
Data analytics is the key factor for many industries, and manufacturing is not an exception. Data analytics provides valuable insights and helps with decision making. Apart from this, data analytics plays a crucial role in manufacturing for many other reasons.
Data analytics play a crucial role in optimizing the production process. Manufacturers can identify patterns indicative of potential issues and tackle the problem before it disrupts and slows the entire manufacturing process.
Data analytics play an important role in resource optimization by helping manufacturers identify cost-saving opportunities within the manufacturing process. Minimizing waste, optimizing resource usage and streamlining operational processes are some of the ways manufacturers can explore to optimize resource utilization.
The ten automation trends we have covered above are set to change the manufacturing industry dramatically. From streamlined production process and enhanced employee training to improved product quality and reduced operation costs – all these trends will bring about a sea change, providing a mutual benefit for workers and manufacturers.
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