Factory Automation Examples
FACTORY AUTOMATION EXAMPLES
When applying automation to your enterprise, it makes sense to prioritize those applications that are going to provide you with the greatest return on your investment (ROI). What might some of those situations be, and what might they look like?
Moving raw materials--and later manufactured products--from one place to another is an excellent application of factory automation. This is because automation is ideal for work that is repetitive in nature but requires accuracy and consistency. For example, assume your raw materials enter your facility as large rolls. The rolls must likely be converted as part of the manufacturing process. Perhaps they are fed into a machine that cuts the material into smaller, uniform parts. An automated machine ensures speed and accuracy in this operation. Then perhaps the smaller parts are sorted by size and shape before being sent further in the manufacturing process. Machine vision components and sensors can be used to do this operation far more quickly and with a significantly reduced error rate than humans can achieve. Finally, these smaller parts will probably come together with other raw materials and actually be assembled into a finished product. The merging of those collective materials--in the right place and at the right time--and assembly can be done consistently and accurately in an automation solution.
Inspection and Quality Control
Human beings are typically very good at noticing errors and defects in products. They do, however, become fatigued over time, which may cause them to miss errors and defects. An automated inspection and Quality Control (QC) solution may be an improvement over human beings. Machine vision is an especially powerful tool in this application. Cameras applied as part of a machine vision solution can be used to inspect finished product for consistency in size, shape, alignment, etc. They can be used to read serial numbers or otherwise ensure that labeling is correct. Coupled with barcode readers such a solution can track each product as it rolls off the assembly line and document its inspection in a database. Those that fail inspection can be automatically sorted away from those passing QC, or a signal can be sent to human inspectors via human-machine interface that something is wrong that requires their attention. If necessary, the entire line can be stopped until the offending item is removed or otherwise inspected by hand.
Communication and Human-Machine Interface
The best application of automation is one that effectively marries humans and machines, capitalizing on their respective strengths. Nowhere is this better exemplified than via human-machine interface (HMI). At its most basic level, HMI is used to allow your employees to program and monitor your equipment. More effective applications, however, allow your employees to “see” inside your automation processes: monitor production rates, identify maintenance opportunities, see where potential failures exist before they shut down your plant, etc. A SCADA (System Communication And Data Acquisition) system incorporates the HMI but has the added capability to share plant floor information with the “top floor” of your company. That means that folks in purchasing can get information about raw material shortages so that they can place orders before you run out. Accounting can track defect costs in real time. And most importantly, the CEO can have visibility into overall productivity so that he/she has fewer questions about what is going on in the plant.