To solve industrial automation problems, industries use the ever-changing technologies in control systems in search of increasingly efficient manufacturing or production processes.
These control systems need to be of high quality and reliability. New trends in industrial automation deal with the latest devices and communication protocols to control field devices like control valves and other elements.
Some of the smart devices or instruments used in the automated industry have the ability to monitor the processes as well as the communication capabilities without interfacing with other field-level control devices such as PLCs.
What is industrial automation?
Industrial automation is the use of various control devices such as PC’s/PLCs/DCS used to manage various operations of an industry without significant human intervention and ensure automatic control of process performance.
In industries, automation strategies use a set of technologies that are implemented to obtain the desired operation or production, making the system even more essential for industries.
Industrial automation involves the use of advanced control strategies like cascade controls, modern hardware control devices like PLCs, sensors and other instruments to detect the control variables, signal conditioning equipment to connect the signals to the control devices, drives and other end-control devices.
The history of industrial automation
In 1913, Ford Motor Company introduced an automobile production assembly line that is considered to be one of the pioneering types of automation in the manufacturing industry.
Before that, a car was built by a team of skilled and unskilled workers. Production automation improved Ford’s production rates and increased its profits.
The assembly line and mass car production was the first of its kind in the world. It reduced car assembly time from 12 hours per car to about an hour and a half per car.
Advancement of automation in the 20th century
During the 1930s, Japan was a leader in the development of components that facilitated the automation of industrial manufacturing. The first micro switch, protection relays and a highly accurate electrical timer also appear.
Between 1939 and 1945, during World War II, automation was widely used in combat aircraft, landing craft, warships and tanks.
Japan surrendered to American and Allied forces in 1945 and a program of industrial reconstruction began.
The program relied on new and superior technologies, as opposed to the outdated manufacturing methods that were being used by the rest of the world. Thus, Japan has become the world leader in industrial automation.
Auto companies like Honda, Toyota and Nissan could produce countless high-quality and reliable cars. They offered standard features that were rated extras by other car manufacturers, as well as competitive pricing that sparked the success of the Japanese auto industry.
What is the Automated Industry for?
To reduce periodic or manual checking
In some critical applications, periodic verification of the process variable is necessary to carry out industrial operations.
Automation equipment reduces periodic or manual operations and establishes automatic working conditions.
To increase productivity
Automating manufacturing and other processes increases the rate of production, producing in greater quantities even with a limited workforce.
To reduce production cost
Using automatic machines and equipment, human intervention to control processes drops sharply.
This reduces the investment in the cost of labor, hence the cost of production.
To improve product quality
Ensuring the same standard in all products is hardly possible with human efforts alone.
With automation equipment, reliable and consistent product quality can be achieved using real-time hardware control devices.
To increase flexibility
Using various automation equipment, processes are handled in a simplified way without getting any complex environment, particularly in manufacturing processes.
To improve security and simplify processes
The complexity of operating equipment or processes is reduced with industrial automation.
It changes the operator’s position as operator to supervisory role.
Industrial Automation Structure
The structure of industrial automation contains several levels of operation. These include sensor level, automation control level (unit, cell, process controls), supervisory level and company level.
The pyramid formation indicates that as you go to the tip, information is aggregated and as you go down it is dissolved. This means that we will get the detailed information of a specific variable at the bottom.
The sensor level is also called the processing layer.
It uses sensors and actuators to obtain the values of process variables in a continuous or periodic manner. These act as eyes and arms of industrial processes. Some of these instruments include pneumatic instruments, smart instruments, etc.
The automation control level (or control layer) uses industrial control devices like PC’s/PLCs/DCS, etc. This level uses the built-in various processors, PID algorithms to control the process.
Supervisory level or SCADA layer gets a lot of channel information and stores the data in the system database.
Then this data from various control devices is displayed on the HMIs (Human Machine Interface). The supervisory level also gives alarms to indicate the levels of process and control variables. It uses special software to obtain the data and communication protocols to interact with field devices.
The corporate level performs the tasks like scheduling, ordering and sales, product planning, etc.
Types of Industrial Automation
Industrial automation systems are classified into four basic types, based on flexibility and level of integration in manufacturing processes. These are described below.
- Fixed Automation
The sequences of operations to be performed are determined by the equipment configuration. It is used in high volume production with dedicated equipment.
Examples of this fixed automation system (link to satellite) are automated assembly lines and machine transfer lines.
- Programmable Automation
The sequences of operations can be modified by altering the program. Everything varies based on different product configurations. Also new programs can be inserted into the programmable devices for the new products.
This type of system is used in batch processes, steel rolling mills, industrial robots, etc.
- Flexible Automation
It is the extension of programmable automation. This gives you greater flexibility to handle product design variations.
Operators can give commands in the form of code in the computer program if they want to change the sequence of the process.
Lower level equipment is instructed to operate at field level without losing production time. This kind of automation is used in the manufacture of multipurpose CNC machines, automatically guided vehicles, etc.
- Integrated Automation
In this type, the total system is fully automated under computer control. From the design process to dispatch, the entire system is completely automated. Even the equipment is handled by robots.
This system is used in computer-integrated manufacturing systems.
Industrial Automation Equipments
Sensors and Actuators
A sensor detects the various process variables and converts them into electrical or optical signals. These sensors include temperature, pressure, speed, flow, etc…
Actuators convert electrical signals into mechanical means to gain control over processes. These include relays, magnets, servo motors, etc…
Some of the sensors and actuators have the ability to communicate with the industrial field communication buses that come under the smart devices.
Programmable logic controllers (PLCs) also called industrial computers can be programmed to perform certain control functions.
It consists of a CPU or processor, I/O modules (analog and digital) for connecting the various input/output devices and relay modules. These can be modular, which are fixed type, or built-in types to extend modules based on available inputs.
Along with PLCs, conventional PCs are used for controlling the process online or changing programs. PLCs come with dedicated software to program the control strategy.
HMI (Human Machine Interface)
HMI offers the facilities like, displaying the information on computer screens and other monitors, recording the results in the database, giving alarm signal, etc.
It uses technologies such as SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) and other visual systems based technologies.
In industries, many sensors, actuators, PC controllers and other control devices are geographically distributed and interact with each other through various data buses. There are three types of buses used in industrial automation, namely, factory bus, process bus and field bus.
The fieldbus interacts between field instruments and control devices.
The process bus connects supervisory level computers to control devices such as PLCs.
Factory bus connects the top level of the organization to the supervisory level
6 reasons to invest in industrial automation
1- Improve the conditions of your employees
Humans in general do not like mundane and repetitive tasks. They quickly get sick and fail to devote proper attention to the activity at hand. However, computers can solve everything without blinking an eye.
If your company’s tasks today are very repetitive, there is clearly a potential for process automation.
2- Avoid damages with material damage
Human beings are subject to error due to various external factors. This is part of what it is to be “human”.
But these mistakes can be costing you and your business a lot of money.
Small deviations can lead to damaged parts, poor quality raw materials and even a completely stopped production line.
3- Increase efficiency
Can you guarantee that you will always have the same level of excellence that you have been performing in recent years?
No, human variation exists and directly influences this point.
On the other hand, the automation of processes allows for a constant scenario with increasing potential for improvement.
4- Optimize metrics
Information is a real gold mine. With them you can take your performance to another level.
“If you change something at the beginning of the process, what will change? Why are there more problems now than before?”
By collecting data, you can easily arrive at the answer to these questions.
Correlating process data associated with pass/fail records provides important insights rather than guessing “what is causing this?”.
5- Develop the correct process improvements
Automated systems now collect reliable data. The database provides a searchable collection.
What comes next?
Equipped with vast amounts of reliable data, engineers make the most of this information.
Instead of just switching to “continuous improvement”, make changes with better information.
6- Save money
Why take these measurements? Why log this data? Why spend the money now?
Investing in industrial automation generates cost savings by making processes more regular and collecting data to make confident decisions.
What is the future of industrial automation?
While industrial automation in manufacturing does not sit well with a select few (using an unfounded claim that it will lead to mass unemployment), its future looks very bright.
The industrial robots of the future will be multifunctional, so the same machine can be used in many different processes.
They will have many capabilities associated with human workers, such as the ability to make decisions and work autonomously.
They will also have self-diagnosis and preventative maintenance capabilities.
Thanks to industrial automation, the factory of the future will be more efficient in the use of energy, raw materials and human resources.
Also, contrary to popular belief, experience so far has shown that automation will not cause mass unemployment.
On the contrary, the mass use of robots will create more jobs. Humans and robots will work together to create a more efficient and productive workspace.