The manufacturing sector has witnessed a revolution of sorts recently. With the rise of automation, the manufacturing industry is taking new strides, which is ushering in a new era of enhanced productivity, while reducing costs drastically. Modern technologies like artificial intelligence, robotics, 3D printing, and autonomous systems are paving the way for intelligent factories that require minimal to no human intervention. Let’s dive into seven automation trends in the manufacturing sector for 2023, which will provide you with an overview of what changes to expect in oncoming years.
Benefits of Automation in Manufacturing
Automation in manufacturing has several benefits that can help manufacturers increase production speed, reduce human error and danger, help with labor shortage and skills gap closure, improve analytics and production tracking, and reduce overall operational costs.
Automated machines can work faster and more accurately than human workers, which can increase the overall efficiency of a manufacturing process. Automation also enables manufacturers to utilize the benefits of product quality, inventory management, maintenance schedule, asset tracking, and enhanced safety of the workers.
Types of Automation in Manufacturing
There are three major types of automation in production that can be distinguished based on the automation:
1. Fixed Automation
The fixed type of automation is used when the sequence of processing operations is fixed. It is generally used in companies where the production volume is high enough to have fixed equipment running on automated processes.
2. Programmable Automation
Programmable automation is used when the sequence of processing operations is variable and the production volume is moderate. It is used in cases where there could be changes in the automation steps depending on various external factors.
3. Flexible Automation
Flexible automation is used when the sequence of processing operations is highly variable and the production volume is low. It requires the use of specialized software or programming, which is required to program the automation for added flexibility.
7 Automation Trends in Manufacturing Sector
There are 7 major automation trends in the manufacturing sector for 2023, such as:
Artificial Intelligence has enabled advanced analytics and improved efficiency in multiple aspects of manufacturing. For example, with the use of predictive analytics, you can understand whether any machinery would fail and take precautionary measures to avoid it. It ensures that the production continues without any interruptions.
AI is also being actively used in improving machinery and cutting costs by improving the overall efficiency of the production line. Additionally, technologies such as machine learning improve overall decision-making, resulting in enhanced productivity and reduced costs. AI can provide multiple benefits in inventory management, warehouse storage, reducing transportation costs, tracking assets, HRMS software, and more.
Additive manufacturing is the new-age process of manufacturing using 3D printing technologies. Instead of the legacy process of removing the excess raw material, 3D printing ‘adds on’ the raw material to manufacture the product. Thus, additive manufacturing removes the wastage of raw materials as well as improves the efficiency of the manufacturing process.
Additive manufacturing proves to be highly cost-efficient in creating prototypes, models, etc. as it can avoid the use of welding or similar processes. It can also be used to create custom parts for specific items as it provides more possibilities to create such parts.
Integration of Robots
Modern manufacturing practices include the active use of various kinds of robots. For example, factories employ Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMR) to carry out simple tasks such as transporting products from one assembly line to another, helping to avoid repetitive tasks. On the other hand, collaborative robots can work with an employee to undertake tasks efficiently.
A new concept of ‘dark factories’ is also on the rise. Dark factories are basically fully automated production houses where robots can work round the clock, 365 days a year to manufacture products. Such factories do not require any human intervention.
Factories that utilize advanced technologies such as virtual reality, augmented reality, robotics, and AI are collectively termed ‘intelligent factories’. They employ cloud computing and intelligent sensors to help workers and robots undertake their tasks effectively. Intelligent factories can help manufacture a product with added efficiency since it requires little human intervention, helping to avoid human errors.
Intelligent factories can also help the staff understand the requirements of raw materials while using them with utmost efficiency. As a result, the production continues smoothly without any delays, enabling the company to conduct its business without any interruptions.
Due to the effective usage of advanced technologies such as AI, machine learning, cloud computing, and others, modern factories can undertake predictive maintenance tasks. It helps avoid any downtime by alerting the management of any impending issues and the resulting likely breakdown. As a result, it helps reduce maintenance costs and avoid downtime, while also ensuring prolonged machine life.
Using the aforementioned modern technology also helps in gathering multiple kinds of data. The data can be analyzed to understand outliers and raise alarms if they fall beyond a certain threshold value. Additionally, with the help of numerous sensors, factories can predict when a part will be failing and replace it before it reaches the end of its life cycle, making the factory safer.
Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) is an advanced system of smart devices connected to the internet that can communicate with each other to accomplish certain tasks collectively. Having a system of connected devices provides added efficiency to the manufacturing process, enabling faster production with reduced manual errors.
Since IoT devices are connected via the internet, it becomes easier for the users to understand if any issues arise. Additionally, it is easier to monitor IoT devices remotely and gather real-time data. This will help in reducing maintenance costs and predicting equipment failure. As a result, the user can also optimize the processes to streamline the processes and make them safer.
While automation is not new to the manufacturing sector, making it accessible is the next challenge. The influx of modern systems such as AI, ML, VR, AR, etc. has the potential to vastly enhance the potential of the efficiency of manufacturing processes. Hence, it is imperative to integrate these technologies in an accessible manner by providing adequate training to the staff.
Many employers are also apprehensive about deploying automated systems due to the misconception that such systems require specialized professionals. Hence, accessible automation is the new trend in the manufacturing sector which removes the need for any special training with the use of intuitive technologies.
Challenges in Implementing Automation in Manufacturing
There are several challenges that manufacturers face when implementing automation in their production-line:
Lack of Experienced Operators
Manufacturers have turned to machines to confront challenges caused by a shrinking workforce. However, there is a lack of experienced operators who can handle automation tasks efficiently.
High Transition Expenses
Historically, automation meant a complete overhaul of the factory’s process. It leads to hefty expenses, which discourages the management from transitioning to a fully-automated system.
Ensuring Workforce Safety
Automation can pose safety risks to workers if they are implemented incorrectly. Hence, it entails additional overhead costs to ensure worker safety. Moreover, any accidents in the workplace due to automation would also deter the staff from using these tools.
High Upfront Costs
The cost of purchasing and installing automation equipment can be significant, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises. This equipment will also require additional maintenance costs, which deters the management from deploying them.
Lack of High-value Automation
It is hard to identify automation opportunities that provide higher returns on the investment. Hence, the management may avoid installing the required machinery.
Future Outlook for Automation in Manufacturing
According to a recent report, by 2025, it is projected that 10-15% of jobs in three sectors, namely manufacturing, transportation and storage, and wholesale and retail trade, will have a high potential for automation. Automation can provide numerous benefits, including mechanical precision and consistency, greater safety, and decreased operating expenses. AI is going to make automation more widespread and even more reliable for these sectors.
Based on the trajectory of current automation trends, here are a few predictions about what the future of manufacturing will look like:
- Automation will become more widespread and even more reliable.
- There will be increased use of AI in manufacturing automation.
- The factory of the future will be more flexible and adaptable.
- The use of collaborative robots will increase.
- The use of AR and VR technology will rise drastically.
The rise in automation in manufacturing has resulted in various trends that enable faster production with reduced associated costs. The seven trends that we discussed in this article are the major ones to look forward to in 2023. However, there are many other upcoming trends in automation that can be utilized by the manufacturing sector to streamline and enhance their productivity and efficiency.