Nowadays, we are gearing towards the transition to the industrial revolution 4.0 where there will be an exponential growth in productivity, advanced analytics, and software-led system configuration.
Automation is one of the building blocks of the new industrial revolution and it has paved the way to a faster and precise production system. Human participation is reduced and productivity is optimized.
The physical infrastructure of our existing industrial factories is being bridged into a more digitalized and automated system. Let’s discuss some of the hottest factory automation technologies in 2019.
1. Autonomous mobile robots
Roaming around the production and inventory warehouses of floors of factories and manufacturing plants are independent, autonomous mobile robots.
A mobile robot is controlled by software using sensors and other technology to recognize its surroundings and go around its environment. The use of slip rings, such as Moflon slip rings, allows continuous rotation of motors without limit. Mobile robots function through a combination of artificial intelligence and robotic elements such as tracks, legs (animal-like or human-like legs), and wheels.
The features of mobile robots vary depending on the needed specific goal or certain task to be done. The most common features of mobile robot systems include fleet simulation software, integration of safety, wireless communication, fleet management software, and the integration of the factory’s supervisory software.
2. Machine vision
Visual sensing or machine vision has become one of the major technologies in modern quality control and manufacturing to provide assistance in the increasing quality demands of customers and manufacturers. This factory automation technology utilizes industrial image processing through the use of cameras installed on production lines and cells.
Machine vision systems are the electronic eyes in the factories – inspecting products visually in real-time without any operator intervention. Some applications of visual inspection systems are as follows:
- Inspection of surface quality in metal and textile wood industries
- Verification of quality dimensional characteristics (e.g. product dimensions, orientation, positioning, shape) in semiconductor and packaging industries
- Vision-based automated micro assembling
- Automated fabric defect detection
- Verification of correct or accurate operation of the inspected products
Next on the list of factory automation technologies are cobots or collaborative robots. They are now hot in the manufacturing space as they automize the mundane, dull, complex tasks at a faster rate with 100% accuracy. These collaborative robots can be programmed to be utilized in full day and night shifts.
A cobot is not intended to replace a human worker but to work side by side with them. Advances in technology such as touch technology and machine vision make it possible for cobots to perform different tasks in close proximity to factory workers.
Its applications are vast but mostly they are used for handling materials, assembling items, and repetitive tasks like picking inventory, packing products in cartons, as well as palletizing. Cobots do not tire and can work long hours making them more attractive for manufacturing companies.
4. The Cloud
Cloud storage allows you to store data wirelessly and is one of the key advances in factory automation technology. Data from most of the machines can be uploaded automatically and is backed up over wireless technology.
Cloud-based technology cannot be stored, monitored, or secured using traditional methods. Because it is not maintained locally, it allows remote workforces and in-house to collaborate in real-time more efficiently compared with the traditional data systems.
Advantages of cloud technology include faster transactions, reduction of maintenance needed, and improvement in manageability. Also, in case of computer crashes, all data is secured and accessible from any computer, waiting to be recovered from the cloud.
5. Advanced materials and additive manufacturing
Also known by its more common name of 3D printing, advanced materials and additive manufacturing has become one of the biggest emerging manufacturing technology. Although these factory automation technologies have been around since the 1980s, the process was previously too slow and the equipment very big for widespread use.
Nowadays, 3D printers use new special consumable materials and can create large and complex structures such as housing in less than a day. They are thoroughly adopted in different industries due to their improved accuracy and capacity for increased quantity and production runs.
Automated 3D printing also allows affordable manufacture of highly customized, complex, and efficient design with 3D printed products stronger, lighter, and requires less assembly. Lastly, they allow point-of-consumption printing, presenting a reduced barrier of entry to manufacturing and opening up a number of new retail opportunities.
The manufacturing industry is currently witnessing a shift from manual assistance to the incorporation of different factory automation technologies. Most of the large-scale production lines are now automated and utilize minimum or no human intervention.
The traditional manufacturing systems have become inadequate to meet the demand requirements of current industries. We are now in the era of smart factories, consistent quality products, increased productivity and ensured safety of workers.
With the flow of innovations and brilliant minds of our generation, we can only expect that these factory automation technologies will only get sophisticated and more advanced in the future.
What problems or drawbacks do you think should be next addressed by automation in the coming years?