When people talk about automation trends they concern it in future. But if we observe closely automation trends is the study of the events in the area of automation. Let us have a quick view about Automation trends. Automation trends are the future of the Industry by continuously improving the technological aspects and synchronizing different domains all together. “The future is less about mass production and more about mass customization.”
Henry Ford’s introduction of the assembly line to the manufacturing of automobiles is often cited as a pinnacle achievement in the culminating moments of the Second Industrial Revolution. In hindsight, while this innovation may seem to have been a lightning strike of brilliance, nothing could be further from the truth. Historians trace the original notion of the assembly line to as far back as 1104 AD with the founding of the Venetian Arsenal. The Arsenal was the manufacturing powerhouse of naval combat capability for the Republic of Venice. At its height, 16,000 workers using prefabricated, standardized parts could build a warship in a day, with a canal taking the place of a mechanized assembly line.
“The future is less about mass production
and more about mass customization.”
While our retrospection of factory and manufacturing automation is a bit hazy due to the passage of time, the capabilities and technologies of future factories are increasingly coming into sharp focus. In an effort to drive down the unit price and maximize profit margins, factory automation has historically served to reduce manufacturing costs, eliminate variability in product quality, and rapidly produce commodities in high volume. Factory automation has been successful to that end, but the future is less about mass production and more about mass customization. That is to say, one-size-fits-all products will increasingly give way to products that are customized to match the specific wants and desires of each consumer. Thus factories will have to become extremely adaptable while also making strides in connectivity and energy efficiency to remain competitive. Factory automation today is at the equivalent maturity of the mainframe era of computing just before the personal computer revolution. Thankfully, many new factory automation-enabling technologies are emerging to help fuel the next “Industrial Revolution 4.0”
Do You Understand the change happening around you?
Factories are comprised of machinery that is built by many different manufacturers. Devices such as Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC) and Distributed Controls Systems (DCS) represent the largest market segment of industrial automation technologies that control these machines. There are still other smaller solutions as well and each come with their own unique communications protocols. Interoperability is often achieved through the use of protocol converters that add cost and complexity to a factory’s process line. Additionally, interconnections between machinery require long runs of cables with various wiring configurations and connectors. This means it is no simple matter to reconfigure production lines to accommodate changes in designs or manufacturing techniques, and doing so often requires significant downtime.
The promise of the ubiquitous interconnectedness of everything as envisioned by the notion of the Internet of Things (IoT) is finding its way into factory automation solutions. Going by such names as Industrial Internet (II) or Industrial Internet of the Things (IIoT), the concept of interoperable Machine-to-Machine (M2M) protocols is beginning to become a favorable alternative to traditional closed and proprietary protocols such as Modbus, Ethernet/IP, and CANopen.
Lower down the protocol stack, we are already seeing convergence to TCP/IP-based Ethernet as an industrial interconnect standard. So-called Industrial Ethernet uses the same protocols as traditional Ethernet while providing more physically rugged enclosures and connectors to accommodate the unique and harsh environmental conditions (e.g. temperature, vibration, chemicals) found in a factory setting. We are also seeing the adoption of more wireless solutionsas they don’t require purchasing expensive cabling nor do they require the labor needed for cable installation and reconfiguration. Interestingly, 802.15 (Bluetooth®, Zigbee) based protocols are seeing greater adoption than 802.11 (WiFi) because they tend to be low power. In fact, many sensors will be powered by harvesting the ambient RF or thermal energy and converting it into electrical current. Wireless solutions allow factories to be more nimble in their ability to reconfigure on the fly; a key requirement to realizing the demands of a marketplace that wants more customized products without significant cost increases.
By now, most people have been exposed to the concept of a 3D printer that enables factories to use more efficient additive manufacturing techniques as compared to the subtractive methods used in milling machines. While most people’s exposure to 3D printers has been limited to the explosion of low-cost, plastic-based printers that sit on the desktop in many homes and makerspaces, industrial 3D printing is far more advanced. TNO, a Netherlands-based research group, recently demonstrated an additive manufacturing machine that uses 100 platforms moving about a carousel to deposit a variety of materials such as plastics, metals, and ceramics to build an entire product.
“Conveyor belt systems are fixed…Reroute the virtual assembly line on a moment’s notice to reflect real-time demand”
Today we often associate the idea of the assembly line with conveyor belts that shuttle raw materials from worker to worker until a final product shoots out the end. However, conveyor belt systems are fixed and impossible to reconfigure without significant additional cost. Enter the notion of a Portable Assembly Line that replaces conveyor belts with battery-free autonomous vehicles that move the work-in-progress from station to station. The use of robotic vehicles will allow Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) to reroute the virtual assembly line on a moment’s notice to reflect the real-time demand gleaned from a company’s Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) tool. This will allow adaptive factories to produce exactly what the market demands based on sales data, thus relying less on vulnerable sales forecasts.
Nanotechnology, exotic composites, and embedded MEMS technologies will continue to alter the landscape of factories in order to account for new manufacturing techniques that result from building products that incorporate new materials. For example, engineers are studying ways to replace large autoclaves associated with today’s composite manufacturing. One promising solution is to incorporate microwaves to assist in quickly curing large or high-volume composite components. Microwave curing also offers the advantage of reduced energy consumption and the ability to do partial curing; meaning different parts of an assembly could be cured at different rates allowing for novel assembly techniques not possible with traditional autoclaves.
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