Industrial Automation: The History of Manufacturing Application, Current Status & Future Outlook

  May 28, 2018 1:27:21 AM

Industrial Automation can be defined as – the use of control systems and technology to the processes of procurement, material handling, manufacturing, process Industry, and quality control with the objective of ensuring minimal human intervention.

While certain processes in the industrial domain have been entirely automated, others do require the combined participation of humans and technology. Not all automation is computer driven; in fact, industrial automation includes hydraulic, pneumatic, mechanical, electrical, electronics, and computer-aided procedures. Industrial automation facilitates the use of technology so machines can carry out the process of manufacturing with levels of precision, speed, and consistency that is beyond those of humans.

History of Automation
Automation, in the sense of using machines or equipment, dates back to the 11th century when miners used waterwheels to drain out water from underground tunnels and shafts. The modern form of automation took shape during the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s when automated processes and tools were used to increase factory productivity. Use of electricity in the1920s led to faster production process at the factory changing the factory floor dynamics. The application of feedback controllers by the industry during the 1930s and 40s was a significant step towards modern automation in manufacturing.

By 1980s the world saw new levels of automation with many sectors from manufacturing and retail to pharmaceutical and consumer goods embracing some or the other form of technology to further productivity.

Current Status – At the confluence of innovation and technology
The ‘Lights-out’ phenomenon – a situation where every task and job can be left for robots to complete – that was voiced in the 80s is still an ambition, as we see it today. However, there has been considerable progress in the area of industrial automation over the last three decades.

The use of robots for repetitive and high precision tasks has increased considerably as many manufacturing facilities, especially ones in the automotive sector, continue to ship more robots. In fact, the modern-day assembly lines are largely taken over by robots. Today’s robots function with enhanced capabilities such as improved vision systems, higher computing abilities, and increased operational capacities. The increasing popularity of automation through robots is shown by the incremental shipping performance of industrial robots – the Worldwide shipment of these robots was around 294,000 for 2016, a 16% increase over previous and almost a doubling growth from 159,000 in 2012.

Manufacturing companies are looking for innovative ways to design and integrate various components of the manufacturing system with the help of computer software and this leading to computer integrated manufacturing.

Right now, industrial automation is at the confluence of emerging technological trends and innovation with companies looking towards enhancing their operational and functional processes across the manufacturing value chain.

The Future of Industrial Automation
As far as the future of Industrial automation is concerned, it looks good.  The Industry 4.0 is here and is set to redefine industrial automation and manufacturing in a significant way. The factory floors will be more technologically advanced and will be beaming with emerging technological trends and higher levels of automation. A report suggests that the Industrial Control and Factory Automation market will touch $ 239.11 billion by 2023 from $ 155.26 in 2017 with a CAGR of 7.4%.

Robots will give way to ‘Smart or Intelligent’ robots that will behave and adapt as per changing conditions. They will multi-task, i.e., the same robot can be used for different tasks. Aided with Machine Learning (ML) and Deep Learning (DL) capabilities, these robots will work with higher computational abilities; they will function more independently than before. They will also be able to blend better and coordinate with other robots and with humans.

Big data will reimagine the operations and functions of the industrial sector. With loads of data available, decision makers will be equipped with better insights to take quicker and confirmed decisions. Data analytics will prove a significant advantage as far as analyzing everything from procurement to material handling, production process, packaging, and logistics. All this will lead to a much smarter manufacturing value chain. Not just that, devices and equipment equipped with ML and Data analytics will pave the way for a self-diagnostic and predictive maintenance approach. This will lead to a superior level of automation where the human intervention will be minimized.

Industrial automation has had a long journey and right now, is positioned to leap towards establishing a seamless and more efficient system at the factory floor level in the future. The future of industrial automation will look towards establishing efficient and effective levels of – material management, energy consumption, machinery and equipment utilization and human resource management. Backed by emerging technological trends, the industrial automation of the future is slated to create a much more enhanced and revolutionized operational and functional value chain across various industries (connected factory, collaborative factory, etc.)

It is a future to look forward to.

Author: Channabasavaraj Raravi, Senior Solutions Architect – Software, Product Engineering Services

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