Industrial automation has been with us for many years. But do you know all the types it includes? How does it fit into Industry 4.0? Throughout this post we will answer the most common questions about the Industrial Automation.
What is Industrial Automation?
Industrial automation is a very broad term that includes all those technologies and methodologies that allow repetitive tasks to be done automatically, either with or without the interaction of an operator.
The universe of industrial automation is very wide, as well as the technologies that can be applied in industry. In addition to including robots, PLCs or pneumatic systems, … to perform repetitive tasks, there are other technologies that can be applied in many other processes in industries to provide greater added value.
What does Industrial Automation have to do with Industry 4.0?
Today industrial automation can’t be understood without Industry 4.0. Industrial automation emerges as a natural evolution of production processes. It already happened with the steam engine, electricity or the appearance of the first robots and automata. What Industry 4.0 provides is the ability to interconnect all these traditional systems to do both joint management and diagnosis of the entire production process. It also allows us to analyze this data to improve competitiveness, quality or maintenance.
With all this, the advantages of I4.0 are very clear:
- Quick improvement and adaptation to the evolution of products on the market.
- More customization in the final product, by having digital systems that allow the process to be varied without great difficulties.
- More agile reference changes within the same line, being able to manufacture different pieces / products in the same positions without requiring duplication.
- More control over the manufacturing parameters and, therefore, the quality.
Industrial Automation types
At ATRIA we have worked on a large number of Industrial Automation Projects, using technologies that allow us to automate tasks. Some of these technologies are: computer vision, collaborative robotics, industrial robotics, AGVs/AMR and augmented reality.
Then, we let you know in more detail what these technologies consist of:
- Computer vision: computer vision allows us, through images of different types, to obtain visual information of the environment. With this, applications can be developed, such as, for example, metrology of pieces, detection of defects, positioning, etc.).
- Collaborative robotics: collaborative robotics allows robotic arms to be added to workstations or areas where people and robots must coexist. This type of robots include sensors of different types to react to variations in the environment.
- Industrial robotics: industrial robotics as we know is used to automate repetitive tasks, usually with heavy pieces that collaborative robots can’t work with. For example, moving pieces from one position to another.
- AGVs, AMR and AIVs: Autonomous Guided Vehicles (AGVs), Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) or Intelligent Autonomous Vehicles (AIVs), are generally used to transport material inside production factories. In addition, as you will see in one of the Projects that we have carried out below, other uses are possible, such as testing functions in different workstations. There are also different types of AGVs: filoguided, with mapping etc.. Here this post dedicated to it.
- Augmented reality: augmented reality is used in maintenance, task guidance and ergonomics improvement in the workplace, among other things. At ATRIA we work with industrial projectors, smart glasses and portable devices, such as tablets. You can learn more about this technology in this post about augmented reality and this specific post on augmented reality applied to industrial maintenance.
Here are some combinations of these technologies that can solve more complex problems:
- Robotics + Vision + AI: many of you will have heard about robotic systems for assembly, placing or transporting pieces. Also vision systems to locate pieces or to perform picking tasks in chaotic. However, these technologies have much more possibilities.
From ATRIA we bet on Artificial Intelligence for the most complex cases that can’t be solved with traditional computer vision systems. The use of artificial intelligence allows, not only to locate in space or assess whether a piece is good or bad, but also to adapt to new situations, obstacles or errors.
Imagine that a product passes through a conveyor belt and a robot has to pick up and put in a box. With a traditional vision system, one or more “good” patterns would be determined, with which the product would be valid for packaging, and otherwise it would be discarded.
With the inclusion of artificial intelligence we can assess the appearance of new “bad” cases and separate them to a specific point for evaluation and implement more complex and versatile applications in the face of changes and variability. You can see an example here.
- Robotics + Vision +AGV/AMR: another interesting combination is the union of collaborative robots with mobile platforms (AGV, AMR or AIV). This union allows flexibility of processes, since the robot can move independently between different workstations, without the need to invest in a robot for each one of them. In this way, waiting times are also optimized when performing other tasks. In addition, it is possible to include a computer vision system to absorb the possible tolerances or deviations of placement of the autonomous platform, as well as to correctly reference the piece that we are going to work with. We also leave you a link to one of the Projects in which we have combined a MIR with an UR and a vision system with artificial intelligence.
Advantages of Industrial Automation
Industrial automation can bring great advantages to the production processes of companies. Here are some of the most interesting:
- Productivity improvement: industrial automation allows greater continuity in production processes. It also allows to maximize the daily and annual useful hours, being able to produce every day of the year 24 hours a day. This allows for greater productivity and competitiveness.
- Quality improvement: the control and visualization of parameters in real time, the visualization of the pieces thanks to the computer vision cameras and other intelligent control processes allow higher quality throughout the production line.
- Flexibility: industrial automation processes allow us to improve flexibility, as we increase the capacity of production lines, making it possible to process new products or changes.
- Operation cost more competitive: industrial automation reduces operating costs for all the previously mentioned advantages: waste reduction, quality improvement and productivity improvement.
- Information gathering: another interesting aspect of automation is the possibility of collecting a large amount of information from the elements that make up the stations and machines. This allows us to improve preventive maintenance when we see that certain parameters affect the process. It also allows to reduce rejects and improve the efficiency of the line.
- Security: thanks to automation, we achieve safer production processes for people by freeing them from tasks that can be dangerous or compromised and that can cause physical wear and tear and / or injuries.
Industrial Automation Applications
Within Industrial Automation, there are many possible applications. Today we would like to tell you about some of them. Some of them are more general and can be applied to different sectors and production plants, others more specific in certain industries:
- Picking of pieces: moving pieces from one position to another is one of the tasks most likely to automate. Each application is different and will need different settings or elements. Picking of chaotic pieces with complex geometries is currently possible. For this, it is necessary to use 3D vision technology and make a proper design of the robotic claw. We show you a Project that we have made in which we use a Yumi ABB.
- Quality control: the quality control of pieces is carried out, in many cases, manually, this being a very tedious task. It can be automated using different computer vision technologies, detecting defects in plastic, metal pieces, with different configurations, etc. Automate this type of tasks, allows to inspect 100% of the production, more efficiently and faster. You can see an example made by us here.
- Pharmaceutical industry: the processes of filling drugs and pills, the process of putting them in boxes, their packaging, etc. they are automated processes in most cases, with autonomous work cells.
- Farming industry: automation is already present in the agricultural sector and it is expected that it will be even more in the not too distant future. There are already models of autonomous tractors and harvetersters and drones that are responsible for the spraying and inspection of plantations. This makes it possible to parallelize tasks and become more competitive in an increasingly demanding sector. You can see an example of one of our favorite Projects.
- IT applications: the automation of tasks related to the IT world is very important, since it allows us to collect large amounts of data and treat them appropriately without requiring large teams of people. It is also related to all the information related to the supply, such as automatically checking the stock of available pieces and ordering when a certain quantity is reached.
- Mining industry: this sector is undergoing a great transformation thanks to the advantages that automation provides in its operations. The use of autonomous vehicles, above all, greatly reduces the risk to which workers are exposed, both for extraction and demolition. In this way, people can take on tasks much more safely.
How can Industrial Automation be included in companies?
What we have explained may be very interesting, but doubts may arise about how to carry it out in companies.
From the beginning we will have to take into account many factors that must be assessed:
- The ultimate goal of the application
- His degree of difficulty
- The economic return that can provide us
- The cost of time
- The resources necessary to launch the application
- And much more specific to each application
In addition, there are some companies called “Industry 4.0 Enablers”, such as ATRIA, who are responsible for carrying out all these tasks in a reliable and agile way.
Steps to follow to implement an Industrial Automation system
First of all, it is necessary to define the objective of the application, the times we have and the investment available to carry out the automation.
At this point we must consider what will be the way to carry out the automation. In many cases, it can be interesting to start with a small project, which allows you to validate the technology and begin to become familiar with it. This will mean reducing the risk of the investment to a great extent and ensuring its viability. In other cases, it is necessary to go directly to the industrial implementation at the final location.
Then, we tell you what are the general steps to execute Industrial Automation Projects:
- Planning. In-depth knowledge of the production process is required to design the automated system that will be implemented to carry out the proposed improvement. It also includes supplier or suppliers selection, implementation times and available resources.
- Assembly management. Controlled shutdowns, maintenance or weekends will be taken into account to minimize the impact during the installation and testing phase.
- Elements integration. The new automated system will need to work with existing systems, communicate and be connected. We must adapt the communication systems to allow it works correctly.
- Execution and programming. The new automated system is installed in its new location. In many occasions the programming may have been previously installed, saving time at this stage. The interconnection of elements, installation of mobile elements and other necessary auxiliary operations will be carried out.
- Verification. With the system in place, we will perform a verification and readjustment to test that the process works correctly and optimally.
- Maintenance planning. Maintenance is a key element for proper operation. A properly documented maintenance plan will be prepared.
- Training. It is a very important point in the management of automated processes. The good operation of the stations is closely related to the good use of them.
- Troubleshooting. Automated systems will have wireless sensors and detectors, whenever possible, to facilitate maintenance and fault detection.
From ATRIA we have carried out different automation Projects, adapted to the needs of the client and the process, you can see them here.
Do you want to apply Industrial Automation in any of your Projects? Contact us!
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