The Definitions Automation Equipment Manufacturers Want You to Know
In the manufacturing industry, innovation is the key to success. However, you have to do it right. There is a dizzying array of options available when it comes to developing an automated assembly line, and choosing the right solution requires knowing how to articulate what you need. Two very common words tossed around in the industry are automation and robotics. This can be confusing due to the overlap and nuances of these terms. Here, we will explain the differences between them and why that matters when automating your business.
Machine automation is the process of replacing human workers with physical machines, software solutions, or other technology to complete tasks. This doesn’t necessarily mean a total replacement of human workers, and in many cases, workers will work in tandem with low-level automation to boost productivity. Automation can be physical or virtual, with complexity ranging from very simple tasks, like small parts assembly automation, to incredibly intricate.
This refers to the wide range of disciplines that go into creating robots, including mechanical and electrical engineering, computer science, and more. Altogether, this covers the design and implementation of machines that receive inputs, process information, and deliver outputs autonomously.
Know Your Automation
While there are dozens of different subcategories corresponding to specific aspects of the business and process sides of manufacturing, automation falls into two basic categories: industrial and software.
When it comes to the physical processes of manufacturing, this is where you see industrial automation. For many, it summons to mind the image of sparks flying around massive robotic arms in an automotive production facility. However, that is only the most extreme example of what in reality is a highly diverse set of tools and automated manufacturing equipment. In fact, this can range from full assembly automation to merely assisting human workers.
Full Automatic Assembly
This style of machine automation requires almost none or no human interaction, autonomously creating, inspecting, and sorting pieces. This can be done with a series of robots, gantries, and conveyors, which bring material from its raw state to a final product.
Here, similar operations to full assembly can be conducted without a high level of investment. This can mean a worker moves varyingly finished pieces between separate stations, only specific parts of the manufacturing process are automated, or inspection and metrology are performed by robots. This furthers the goal of a lean assembly line, with minimal time lost between stations while retaining the overall process flow without moving entirely towards a lights-off manufacturing approach.
Automation in a manual process refers to solutions where a worker is doing the physical work with automated assistance. This could either be part of a series of stations or a single-operation assembly. For manual +Vantage machines, operators are prompted through each step, ensuring each is completed properly and in the right order.
The purpose of software automation is, in essence, precisely the same as industrial automation. The software completes simple, repetitive operations that would otherwise require a human worker. The difference is that while industrial automation handles physical assembly tasks, software automation handles virtual logic tasks.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
While there are several varieties of digital ‘bots’ used in everything from call centers to human resources, the most relevant one to manufacturing assembly is RPA. Given the vast amount of data collection allowed by industry 4.0, parsing tools are needed for effective process monitoring. RPAs allow companies to make the best use of high-speed measurements and integrated metrology to detect trends and identify issues. Additionally, RPAs can take inventory data and use it to schedule just-in-time deliveries, compounding the efficiencies of manufacturing automation equipment.
Know Your Robots
Fortunately, robots are a bit simpler to define than the broad category of machine automation. As mentioned before, they are programmable, receive inputs from sensors, and produce outputs in the physical world. It is important to note that not all robots perform automation. Automated assembly lines require performing a specific, functional task in a process. If a robot does not do that, it is not performing automation.
Due to the flexibility of programming, robots are often able to conduct more than a single task, with tools and software changes allowing rapid production line turnover. Factory automation equipment manufacturers produce robots for a wide variety of industrial tasks including material handling, welding, lathing, assembling, and more. As a result, the vast majority of manufacturing is expected to be performed by robots in the coming years.
Know the +Vantage Approach
At +Vantage, our team of experienced engineers is dedicated to providing you with the best possible automation solution for your application. Whether it’s custom automated manufacturing equipment or a turnkey solution, manual or fully automated, we want to see your business thrive, and have the industry expertise to back it up.
Check out our brochures to discover the incredible range of solutions and integration we offer. To learn more about how +Vantage can benefit your custom application, contact us today!