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Editorials

How to Gain Long-term Value from Industrial Automation

by Jerry Leitz, Director of Field Engineering, Motion Control
IntervalZero

Industrial automation promises to reduce production costs, optimize manufacturing, improve consistency and quality of products and more. To achieve these benefits, manufacturers and industry owners must embrace it with the aim of gaining as much long-term value as possible. Manufacturers should start by determining how far they are along the automation maturity spectrum. This spectrum consists of four stages: low maturity, mid maturity, high maturity, and best-in-class.

Industrial Automation

  • Low maturity: At this level, a manufacturer has limited infrastructure for rolling out automation. This could be lack of data collection systems, sensors or robotics.
  • Mid maturity: At this level, a manufacturer has important industrial automation infrastructure installed but only uses a fraction of its potential. For example, numerous sensors are installed but a wide range of data is not utilized; programming optimizes local processes as opposed to global value streams; and/or data capture systems lack interconnectedness.
  • High maturity: At this level, traditional automation infrastructure is being fully utilized on the manufacturing floor but cutting-edge automation technology is not. Hence, the business does not realize the full potential of automating support-functions, back office, and managerial tasks.
  • Best-in-class: At this level, a manufacturer captures full automation potential by utilizing the latest industrial technology across all operations.

Assessing a manufacturer’s state of operations along the automation maturity spectrum helps to determine the type of approach that will effectively achieve long-term impact and value. For instance:

At low to mid maturity, a business should deploy automation basics like installing sensing infrastructure, developing of processes that identify, evaluate and implement automation, and adding basic programming that automates simple tasks.

At mid to high maturity, a business should focus on fully utilizing traditional automation. This includes using sensing infrastructure fully to achieve highly automated processes; installing advanced sensing equipment such as vision systems; creating automation excellence centers of excellence; and advancing programming to optimize routines.

At high to best-in-class, businesses should invest in cutting-edge automation like installing and making use of advanced robotics, automating indirect tasks, and adopting the latest automation programming like artificial intelligence and neural networks.

A company’s level on the maturity spectrum is largely based on value creation. Businesses should conduct a thorough inventory of their core activities and develop a heat map of areas with high automation potential to determine where automation should be applied to boost performance and profitability. Areas with high automation potential should be virtually studied before automating them mechanically to determine how they can utilize automation technologies fully. This approach ensures automation investments offer maximum production and profitability impact to business enterprises.

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