Industrial automation relies on machines to complete work quickly, repeatedly, and without the need for manual processes such as pushing buttons or flipping switches. The old-school automation strategy was usually an all-or-nothing proposition. Facilities had to invest in large machines that handled one part of the process, sometimes connecting those machines via a complex system of conveyors. Any changes in the production process were left behind. People ran these machines, calibrating them to ensure accuracy and complete quality control. If any part of the process could not be replicated with the existing technology of pulleys, rollers, conveyor belts, extruders, and molds, people were needed to complete the process. In this era, automation challenges were speed, manpower, and accuracy. These kinds of limitations posed severe limits to growth and change.
Now when we ask, “What is industrial automation?”, we’re discussing the kind of flexible automation applications that provide industrial solutions and allow companies to automate in ways that make sense for their business. The advantages of automation of this kind include building in stages. Businesses can now bring in industrial robots and factory automation to take over tasks and processes as needed, when and where they can add the most value. Another part of the advantages of automation is that you can now combine people, automation, and existing automated processes together in unprecedented combinations.
Automated system examples can include collaborative robots (or cobots) that work side-by-side with employees, handling heavy lifting or tasks that may lead to repetitive stress injuries. Unlike traditional robots of the past, cobots do not need cages and stop safely when coming into contact with people or objects, preventing injuries. These kinds of cobot applications combine the strength and mechanical accuracy of a cobot while humans bring more flexibility, intelligence, and sensitivity.