10 Benefits of Industrial Automation in Manufacturing

5 mins

Whether it’s machine learning, vision systems, or advanced logic controllers, industrial aut...

Whether it’s machine learning, vision systems, or advanced logic controllers, industrial automation in manufacturing has helped to lead businesses toward gains in efficiency, productivity, and profitability. However, with the fourth industrial revolution—or “Industry 4.0”—well underway, business leaders are beginning to question how this digital transformation in manufacturing can work for them. 

Whilt conventional forms of automation and robotics in manufacturing were limited in their ability to adapt to new production schedules or products, emerging technologies enable greater collaboration with humans and flexibility in shifting which products are manufactured, helping business leaders pivot to meet market demand. 

From enhanced safety to lessening the impact of supply chain disruption, this guide explores the benefits of industrial automation in manufacturing. We’ll also discuss the brief history of these manufacturing technologies before touching on what the future of manufacturing might look like. 

A Brief History of the Digital Transformation in Manufacturing

Whilst the theory that underpins contemporary industrial process engineering within manufacturing has existed since the early 20th century—with the creation of Henry Ford’s moving assembly line—the automation technologies that this guide discusses truly began to come into their own in the middle of the century. 

The 1960s: Early Automation in Manufacturing

From the late 1960s, factory owners began to rely on PLCs—programmable logic controllers—to control manufacturing machinery and assembly lines. These technologies are still in use today, albeit in an advanced form, since they excel at automating repetitive, rule-based processes that do not entail variation.

The 1970s: Computer-Controlled Technology Emerges

Beginning in the 1970s, manufacturing experts began to take advantage of advances in computing—admittedly still in its infancy compared to the present day—to enhance productivity and flexibility. The emergence of computer numerical control (CNC) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) machines allowed for precise control of the production process.

The 1980s: Personal Computers Revolutionise Manufacturing

The development and widespread adoption of the personal computer meant that the bulky mainframes of the 1970s—which would often take up an entire room—could be replaced by smaller equipment, enabling a greater number of manufacturers to take advantage of software to automate inventory management and production scheduling. 

The 1990s: Growing Connectivity

Following the 1994 development of the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee during his tenure at CERN, manufacturing organisations began to take greater advantage of the ability to share information and data between different locations, improving collaboration and communication between the different teams required in the manufacturing environment. 

The 2000s: The “Smart Factory” Is Born

New developments in sensor technology, data analytics, and machine learning allowed manufacturing experts to begin to create highly-automated, efficient systems for managing the production process. 

The 2010s: Advances in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)

The interconnection of devices, machines, and sensors to collect and exchange data on the manufacturing process meant that the 2010s saw extensive productivity and product quality improvements. In addition, real-time data helped to reduce downtime and allow for more accurate forecasting of trends.

The 2020s: The Growth of Artificial Intelligence and the Cloud

With the growth of advanced artificial intelligence across the manufacturing environment in the current decade, manufacturing leaders are able to take greater advantage of unsupervised learning and vast datasets to improve accuracy and performance. At the same time, cloud technologies allow for the rapid scaling of control software across all manufacturing stations.

The Top 10 Advantages of Automation in Manufacturing

From the automotive industry to electronics, automation is helping manufacturing professionals to be more efficient and reduce their exposure to risk on the shop floor. With the growth of the sector—which is expected to reach a global market value of $355bn by 2028—almost all sectors are utilising automation technologies in some way. 

But what are the advantages of these exponentially-growing developments in automation for manufacturing? 

1. Improved Quality

Industrial process automation is helping to revolutionise the quality of manufactured products. By reducing the risk of human error—from fatigue or distraction—which can be a major issue in many manufacturing processes, automation technologies are helping to improve customer satisfaction and complete repetitive tasks more quickly than humans ever could.

2. Reduced Risk of Human Error

By removing the need for humans to be directly involved in the production process, industrial automation is allowing manufacturing companies to reduce the downtime associated with the errors which can arise from manual labour. From preparatory tasks such as cutting and drilling to final assembly, automated systems can consistently complete tasks in a timely manner whilst improving the safety of products for consumers.

3. Increased Output and Profitability

Across all sectors, automation technologies are helping to increase the output of products—and, in turn, increase company profitability—by allowing for a 24-hour production schedule which doesn’t need to pause for weekends or public holidays. As a result, companies can prepare for seasonal surges in demand, helping them to be more competitive. At the same time, automation has reduced labour costs, leading to higher profit margins and customer-friendly pricing strategies.

4. Allows for Greater Use of Predictive Maintenance

Predictive maintenance—the process of monitoring equipment to detect early signs of damage or failure—is increasingly automated through the use of real-time data from sensors, helping to ensure that repair work is carried out quickly and downtime is minimised. With the impact that unscheduled maintenance can have on productivity, predictive maintenance allows organisations to make certain that they’ll be able to meet contractual obligations and consumer demand.

5. Enhanced Workplace Safety

By removing the necessity for humans to directly interact with dangerous equipment and materials, automation is reducing the risk of workplace accidents. By utilising robotics in manufacturing, business leaders can ensure that their workforce isn’t exposed to hazardous particulates during the painting process, and many machines are now programmed to immediately cease production if a foreign object—such as a hand, an article of clothing, or long hair—enters the assembly line.

6. Scalable Solutions

A key advantage of automation in manufacturing is scalability, which is increasingly possible with the latest generation of technologies. New systems are designed to flexibly produce a range of products and accept a variety of materials, meaning that business leaders can quickly respond to market changes. At the same time, the rapid deployment of automated systems means that businesses no longer need to cease production as their assembly lines and processes are upgraded.

7. More Efficient and Sustainable Use of Resources

The digital transformation in manufacturing has made organisations much more likely to use their resources efficiently. From improvements in assembly-line precision and accuracy leading to reduced waste to energy savings and recycling automation minimising the environmental impact of manufacturing, automation is helping manufacturers to embrace a more sustainable approach to their operations.

8. Faster Time-To-Market

Automation in manufacturing plays a critical role in reducing the time required to develop, manufacture and bring a new product to market, helping organisations remain competitive and capture a greater share of consumers. Changes to existing products can also be done more quickly through the use of CAD and CAM software, allowing industrial designers to quickly iterate on prototypes and ensure high quality.

9. Improved Supply Chain Visibility

By embracing the increased connectivity offered by automation and digital technologies, manufacturing organisations are able to track the movement of key materials through the supply chain. By leveraging data, companies can gain a real-time understanding of their inventory levels and delivery schedules, helping them to make better-informed decisions and resolve bottlenecks around production planning and logistics.

10. Increased Innovation

By freeing up resources, automation enables companies to focus on experimentation, research, and development. Companies can reduce the time their personnel need to spend on repetitive duties, enabling them to allocate resources to creating, testing and refining production ideas. Furthermore, automation allows for the quick and accurate gathering and analysis of data, enabling manufacturers to understand market trends, customer feedback and product performance.

What is the Future of Manufacturing?

Industrial automation solutions continue to greatly improve efficiency and profitability within the manufacturing sector. The future of manufacturing will continue to see the integration of planned technologies, the leveraging of huge volumes of data to enhance planning, and the continued utilisation of digital technologies to enhance connectivity and supply line visibility. 

Several emerging technologies are on the horizon or already being utilised within the manufacturing environment, such as: 

  • Autonomous mobile robots. Just as robotics in manufacturing have enhanced efficiency and productivity on the assembly line, autonomous mobile robots are promising to improve automation within logistics, from machines picking and packing orders to self-driving vehicles handling long-haul transport of goods and materials.
  • Process virtualisation. The increasing utilisation of virtual machines (VMs) within the manufacturing environment is helping to reduce hardware and energy costs for computing-intensive operations, whilst cloud computing provides infrastructure whose resources can be increased as the scale and growth of business demands.
  • 5G and the IIoT empower connectivity. New mobile networking technologies and the connection of industrial equipment with the internet are helping manufacturers to oversee entire sites and gather real-time data on quality and efficiency. Alongside this, machines are increasingly able to communicate with each other, allowing automated assembly lines to monitor processes without human intervention, reducing the likelihood of production issues.

With the World Economic Forum predicting that automation and artificial intelligence will create 58 million new jobs, manufacturers should ensure that they’re presenting an attractive place to work for candidates through the provision of learning and development programmes tailored to the skills which will be needed in the factory of the future. In addition, for those organisations looking to retain their current talent, they need to make sure that their staff have the opportunity to enhance their skills, with career mobility an important motivation for many candidates.

Connecting Businesses with Experts in Industrial Automation Solutions

At Amoria Bond, our experienced industrial automation and manufacturing consultants are committed to progressing lives everywhere through their talent solutions and executive search services. With our international network of ambitious candidates, we can empower your organisation and assist you in scaling up your business practices. No matter how complex your requirements might be, contact us to learn more about our recruitment and consultancy services.