What is industrial automation?
Industry has advanced by leaps and bounds in recent decades with the support of technologies, thus optimizing processes and resources, which is what is known as industrial automation. In our more than 20 years managing factories we have been protagonists of this evolution and we want to share about it.
This is a highly beneficial process for industries that consists of using advanced technologies to control and operate machinery, systems and processes in production and manufacturing environments.
If you want to know more about industrial automation, in this post we tell you what it is, what it is for, how it can help an industry and what levels exist.
Definition of industrial automation
The term "automation" refers to any mechanism that moves by itself or is self-determined. As opposed to manual systems, automated systems offer superior performance in terms of accuracy, power and speed of operation.
Industrial automation is composed of a series of processes that seek to optimize resources, minimize errors and downtime, and improve safety in the workplace. In this sense, its main objective is to increase efficiency, productivity and quality in production, while reducing human intervention in repetitive and routine tasks.
Industrial automation involves the integration of electronic, mechanical and software systems to create a more intelligent and autonomous production environment, which is of great benefit to any industry, regardless of the sector in which it operates.
It is therefore a fundamental concept in the modernization of the industry, since it seeks to optimize production processes through the integration of advanced technologies, in order to achieve greater efficiency, quality and competitiveness in the global market.
What industrial automation is for
Industrial automation offers numerous benefits, such as increased production speed and accuracy, reduced long-term operating costs, improved product quality due to reduced variability, and greater flexibility to adapt to changes in market demand.
However, it can also pose challenges, such as the need for technology training and skills for workers, as well as cybersecurity concerns.
And to overcome these challenges it is necessary to introduce automation in the industry by the hand of professionals specializing in the field, in Mesbook, we identify the needs of each company to find digital production models that are perfectly suited to what each company demands.
How it works
Industrial automation works by implementing technologies and systems that allow production processes to be controlled and operated autonomously, efficiently and accurately. In general, industrial automation works with the following elements:
- Sensors: Sensors are devices that detect changes in the environment, such as temperature, pressure, level, speed, position, among others. These sensors collect data from the production process and send it to control systems for analysis.
- Control systems: These systems process information from sensors and make decisions based on the data collected. They can be programmable logic controllers (PLCs) or computer-based control systems. Control systems run predefined programs or algorithms designed to regulate and optimize the production process.
- Actuators: These are devices that make decisions based on signals from the control system and perform physical actions in the production process. Examples of actuators include electric motors, solenoid valves, pneumatic cylinders, among others. These devices controlled by the control system allow the manipulation of equipment and materials.
- Communication: Industrial automation relies on efficient communication between different components and systems. Data collected by sensors is transmitted to control systems via communication networks, such as industrial Ethernet or fieldbuses, allowing a continuous flow of information in real time.
- Programming and logic: In industrial automation, programming is used to define how the process should operate. PLCs, for example, are programmed with specific programming languages to control operating sequences, actuator activation conditions and responses to specific events.
- Supervision and monitoring: Most industrial automation systems include user interfaces, such as touch screens or graphical interfaces, that allow operators to supervise and control the process. These interfaces also provide real-time information on process status, alarms and performance data.
- Feedback and adjustment: Industrial automation often incorporates feedback where data on process performance and results are used to adjust parameters and optimize operation. This may include adjustments to speed, temperature, pressure or other factors based on changing environmental conditions.
At MESbook, we study in detail the production process of each of our customers and carefully select the data collection points on the lines and the most appropriate elements to obtain this data reliably, thus ensuring that all essential production information is collected effectively.
Later, we define the way in which this data will be extracted in each of the sensors, actuators and controllers of the line, performing, finally, the necessary installation, programming and configuration in each case.
We have extensive experience that allows us to ensure that the automation of production processes feeds our system in a functional way and that the data is transmitted efficiently and reliably to our MES system to reflect the reality of the factory through the data coming from the machines. This efficiency in data transmission provides objective information in real time about productivity losses, shrinkage or lack of quality, an essential resource for the improvement of our customers.
Industrial Automation Integration Challenges
- Diversity of Equipment and Control Systems: One of the most outstanding challenges in today's industrial automation is the management of a heterogeneous fleet of machines, sensors and control systems in factories. This diversity is a product of technological evolution and longevity of equipment in the industrial environment. To ensure effective integration, a deep understanding of the different generations and technologies is required, along with the ability to configure and coordinate these devices so that they work in harmony, so expertise in resolving conflicts between disparate systems is critical to minimize downtime and maximize efficiency.
- Industrial Communications Management and OPC Protocols: One of the main needs of any automated factory is the need for efficient communication between systems and devices, therefore, a proper choice of industrial communication protocols such as Modbus, S7 Commands or Profibus to exchange information between CPUs and/or the successful configuration of an OPC server to collect all the data available in the CPUs of the machines is crucial. Being able to access information from different types of devices and systems will largely depend on the correct implementation of these technologies.
- Transforming Data into Knowledge: Massive data collection in industrial automation is only the first step, the real value lies in the ability to convert this data into valuable information and actionable knowledge. This involves the application of data analysis algorithms to extract patterns, identify trends and make informed decisions.
- Collaboration between Automation Specialists and Factory Management: Successful integration of automated systems in a factory requires close collaboration between industrial automation experts and factory management professionals, as alignment of goals and strategies is essential to achieve an efficient and profitable operation.
- Real-time KPIs Measurement and Strategic Automation: The measurement and management of KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) are fundamental to evaluate and improve the efficiency of the factory, indicators such as OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness), MTBF (Mean Time Between Failures), MTTR (Mean Time To Repair) offer a detailed view of the utilization of the machinery. These indicators combined with other KPIS, such as cost of materials, scrap, MOD and indirect costs, along with strategic process automation, such as quality control, internal logistics with technologies such as AGVs (Automated Guided Vehicles) and automated warehouses, as well as indoor location of workers, are key components to move towards Digital Factory Management in the era of Industry 4.0.
The automation of industrial processes can also be found in different classes or levels depending on the sector in which they are to be applied.
- Process automation: Refers to the automation of specific tasks and processes within a production line. This may include material handling, product assembly, control of temperature, pressure and other parameters.
- Production management automation: Involves the integration of multiple automated processes to manage an entire production line. This can include production planning, inventory management, and coordination of machinery and systems.
- Plant automation: This refers to the automation of the entire manufacturing facility where different production lines and processes are integrated into a single centralized control network.
Industrial automation types can also be divided into fixed, programmable, flexible automation or integrated automation system.
- Fixed automation: This type of automation is used to streamline specific processes and, in this type of automation, it is almost impossible to facilitate modifications in product design. Fixed automation is most commonly used by the type of industries that have to produce stable and sustainable product designs over a long period of time.
- Programmable automation: This is generally used to manufacture products in batches, the production system must be programmed each time to manufacture each batch to its specifications. This automation process is time consuming each time you want to reprogram a production machine.
- Flexible automation system: This is a more sophisticated and refined form of programmable automation, since it allows for automatic and rapid equipment changeover.
- Integrated automation system: This is a set of independent machines, processes and data that work synchronously under the control of a single control system to implement an automation system in a production process.
Today, manufacturers face many challenges in their production as a result of being in a highly competitive global system. In that sense, automation is a great ally for them in challenges such as introducing sustainability into production systems, facing increasingly complex supply chains, complying with the latest energy efficiency standards or competing with companies that have lower costs due to the environment in which they operate.
Thus, at Mesbook we are specialists in industry 4.0 and allies of companies that want to take their production line to the next level in order to become more efficient and competitive companies. Consult us and we will study your industry to create a digital transformation master plan that adapts to your needs. Get in touch with us.
Automation Engineer at MESbook
Antonio Motos Carvajal
Electronic engineer with 2 years of experience in industrial automation.