Industrial automation's main aim is to reduce the necessity of people in manufacturing processes. This allows production to speed up, increase in safety, and better utilize their resources and industrial analytics in manufacturing. Achieving this goal is accomplished by fully mapping out the industrial process and understanding sub-process relationships so machines can be assigned to work and automate certain process tasks.
Machine automation technology can be set to work as fixed applications, programmable applications, or flexible/adaptable applications. Each of these types of machine automation has certain advantages and disadvantages. Recent advancements in machine automation are due to a better understanding of machine automation and the adoption of new machine capabilities such as feedback controllers, robotics, networking, digital computers, and interconnectivity.
Fixed automated machines for example, only work to carry out repetitive and mundane tasks but newly-interconnected, programmable machines can enable manufacturers to offload many process decisions to high-speed controllers, oftentimes operating completely without human intervention.
The Internet of Things (IoT) describes a phenomenon where more and more IoT devices are connected to the Internet, such as smart homes, smart fridges, and industrial manufacturing machines. These interconnected smart devices are significant in enabling automation across industries.
To understand the difference between the growth of IoT from non-IoT devices (non-IoT devices include PC, mobile phone, tablets, laptops, or landlines), in 2010, the total active non-IoT connections was 8 bn devices, compared to only 0.8 bn IoT devices. Estimates predict that by 2025, non-IoT device connections will grow by only 2 bn, reaching approximately 10.3 bn, whereas, in the same time, IoT device connections will exceed 38.6 bn. A dizzying growth rate that has been in tandem with the adoption of automation practices.
It is difficult to separate IoT and automation because automation has been a tremendous driver for IoT devices as it has given applicable purpose to many IoT technologies. Industrial devices like sensors, connectors, actuators, IoT gateways, interfaces, motion controllers, lightbulbs, locks, etc., today, have the capability to share information about their condition and performance, while offering remote access and control. Combined with cloud computing and advanced data analytics, automation IoT software can manage these devices and learn to adapt accordingly to accommodate new ones as necessary.
Many organizations invest heavily in IoT and industrial automation for their great business benefits. And while cost reductions and profitability are significant motivators, the ability for companies to scale, and improve their industrial AI-driven operations are often more valuable, especially in healthcare and other life sustaining industries. For all the improvements and advancements that automation brings to industries, the inherent technicalities of using IoT brings its own challenges. For example, by its nature, IoT technology raises important security concerns, even with new practices, aptly named IoT security, have emerged that addresses these types of concerns.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a key driving factor in enabling the development of industrial automation systems. IoT coupled with computer automation controls helps streamline industrial systems and improve data automation, with the aim of removing errors and inefficiencies, primarily from the people. To achieve this at the industrial level, several layers of devices are used. IoT devices from the field (plant floor), analyzers, actuators, robotics, etc. communicate data upwards to local process control units, which in turn send data to top-level Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) software. While field level machines may perform tasks automatically, at every level a human monitor can step in and interface with the system (provided they have access).
There are four general categories of industrial automation systems. And while there are different types of systems, their variations tend to build upon each other to form more integrated systems that can automate increasingly complex processes. Simpler automation systems, which are fixed and limited in their capabilities and purpose, typically address repetitive mechanical tasks. As automation systems develop to become more complex, computer logic and connectivity between systems are emphasized for added layers of automated decision making and coordination.
Industrial automation products, or tools, are devices that monitor, control, or perform tasks using mechanical, electromechanical, and/or solid-state electronics. These devices each operate at different levels of industrial automation: a higher-order control level is where supervisory decisions are made, a process control level monitors, controls, and schedules, and a field level where machines are coordinated.
The Internet of Things is transforming nearly every industry, while IoT consumer products seep into the daily lives of people. The following industrial players highlight how they have applied IoT automation to improve their operational efficiency.