Imagine digital factories that leverage sophisticated communications and control capabilities to give machines real-time, autonomous decision-making power. Imagine the cost-effective assembly of customized products that such a digital production system enables. And consider how that system might scale across a much wider network, sharing best practices in manufacturing automation to drive broader operational and financial performance improvements. It is not all fantasy…
Sensors and control mechanisms are now embedded into most Automotive and Industrial Equipment industry shop-floor machinery. What’s more, such devices are increasingly connected with management, execution, logistics and ERP systems. As a result, manufacturers have unprecedented visibility into the factory production process.
However realizing the full potential of Industrial Automation poses challenges for many companies. It requires new tools, new skills, new ways of sharing and managing information—and new ways of thinking. That’s a big ask for companies that are not digital “natives”. And an even bigger one for those that are not organized operationally to network across the ecosystem.
Intelligent tools and an intelligent workforce are key enablers of Industrial Automation and together they permit deeper analysis of both manufacturing processes and the supply chain.
Intelligent tools such as sensors, materials tracking mechanisms, 3D printing, automated product design, robotics, mobile devices and “wearables” can all help manufacturers cut costs and increase productivity. Networked equipment sensors, for example, can identify and predict maintenance issues and thus help reduce unscheduled downtime. Moreover 3D printing can boost product quality and help reduce the need for a spare parts inventory.
Intelligent tools require an intelligent workforce, and vice versa. As men and machines do more together, new technologies can deliver the skills needed to make the most of Industrial Automation, helping boost both the skill sets and collaborative capabilities of the human element in a more change-ready and responsive workforce. For example smart glasses can display all the required information for an operator to do their job faster and reduce errors. Eyewear technology can also offer interactivity by granting professionals access to features including barcode scanning, data retrieval from the cloud, voice command and augmented reality. However even in an increasingly machine-centric environment, people will still predominate as the drivers of change and use these tools to achieve the best and most efficient outcomes for companies. To facilitate this digital journey, however, they do need new skills: from data science to machine coordination and maintenance.
In summary, Industrial Automation offers manufacturers the chance to build faster processes, better products, improved asset efficiency, and higher workforce productivity. The time to start realizing its potential is now.