The future of manufacturing automation is here, and it's changing the way we do business. Advances in automation are happening in nearly every vertical, from automotive to electronics to food processing — and they're not slowing down anytime soon. As manufacturers look for ways to stay competitive in this rapidly evolving marketplace, they're constantly searching for new inventions and strategies that can help their facility evolve with the times. If you're researching what's next for your facility, you might want to consider these trends in manufacturing automation.
In advanced automation applications, fractions of seconds matter. We predict that as more manufacturers adopt automation or invest in more automated processes, high speed and high throughput will become more critical. One thing many of our customers are trending toward is continuous motion, where tooling and vision work together to increase cycle rates to higher speeds than could ever be achieved through manual labor. Benefits of continuous motion include reduced downtime, boosted cycle rates, and increased throughput.
The more advanced automated production lines become, the more data they produce. With the Internet of Things (IoT) emerging, manufacturers are beginning to prioritize and analyze that data to make strategic planning decisions on their production lines. More and more customers are asking us to add HMIs to their machines, and we've integrated SCADA systems that talk with our customers' manufacturing execution systems (MES) anywhere in the facility. We predict more manufacturers will try to analyze their data down to the smallest detail to track their trends, track their facilities, and find their problem areas. As the throughput increases, the need for data to track their parts and products is also increasing.
Related to the big data trend, advanced vision applications produce more product-quality data that manufacturers can use to find faulty parts or problem areas. Manufacturing companies can now upgrade their inspection processes with high-speed cameras or 3D imaging, moving away from hardware sensors. Advanced vision systems include hardware and software working together to teach AI systems to recognize defects, and quality analysts and process engineers can use this data to improve processes and reduce error and waste.
In the future, we predict that production lines will further minimize the interaction between people and products. For example, food and beverage companies will seek opportunities to eliminate human contact with food for improved sanitation. Manufacturers will continue to reduce the number of operators on the line, retraining them to complete tasks that cannot be automated such as oversight or functions that require more dexterity. We've seen more and more facilities reach 24/7 operation with automated systems because automation is more reliable and requires little downtime.
The COVID-19 pandemic was a massive challenge to the manufacturing industry. When companies can't safely bring their employees into facilities, robotics systems are a great solution. With advanced automation systems, leaders can even monitor equipment remotely. The value of automation became even more apparent when companies had to enforce distancing between employees or shut down production altogether. Companies realize the benefits of automation can often outweigh the initial costs, and they're ready to invest in advanced solutions.
Before starting on the path to automation or investing in new automation systems in your facility, it's critical to research and understand what automation can do and how to best use it in your facility. Sometimes automation is used as part of an overall production line strategy to increase efficiency and throughput; other times, we install systems for safety reasons. JR Automation has decades of experience consulting with our customers to help them identify a problem statement and design a turnkey automation solution that solves that problem. We’re experts in future-proofing automation systems so our customers are ready for the future of automation in manufacturing.