What Is Industrial Automation?

We are living in a period of change driven by unstoppable technological advancements. The market for digital solutions and tools constantly fluctuates in pursuit of efficiency and productivity, and the industrial sector has been significantly impacted by this relentless evolution. In this scenario, the question is obvious: What is industrial automation, what are its benefits, and what role does safety play?

What Is Industrial Automation?

To explain in a comprehensible manner what industrial automation is, we can discuss the incorporation of various technological elements into production processes. Its goal is to make the control of these processes more efficient while handling repetitive tasks through specific tools, reducing human intervention in certain stages of the system.

Key Elements in Industrial Automation

However, a crucial aspect that aids in understanding industrial automation is knowledge of the physical elements that compose it. Without delving deeply into each of these tools that are part of automated processes, it is important to highlight them as indispensable components of this transformation:

  • Robotics elements.
  • Artificial neural networks.
  • Elements for supervision and data acquisition.
  • Interface of the tools.
  • Sensors and detectors.
  • Programmable logic controllers.
  • Distributed control systems.

Implementing Industrial Automation in an Organization

Despite the need to embrace this evolution, many organizations have yet to take the step toward industrial automation. Like any major transformation, implementing these solutions requires a customized process based on the needs and demands of the company, its sector, and its market. This process can be divided into the following phases:

Situation Analysis

The analysis of the situation allows the company to assess its current position, determine its specific needs, and establish a priority order. This stage forms the foundation of industrial automation within an organization and should be approached in a detailed and meticulous manner.

Process Planning

Building upon the previous step, planning should primarily encompass the objectives to be achieved through process automation. Simultaneously, considerations such as investment and expected timeframes should be addressed. In essence, this phase involves designing the rest of the transformation process.

Tool Selection

Once the main business needs and objectives have been identified, it is time to search for tools in the market. This involves selecting not only the physical elements mentioned earlier (which is the simpler part) but mainly the hardware through which automation will operate.

Integration into Facilities

After conducting thorough market research, the next step is to implement the chosen solutions within the organization’s facilities. This aspect of industrial automation can be particularly challenging for companies, as it entails a learning and adaptation process for employees who may sometimes be resistant to change.

Results Monitoring

Finally, once automation processes have been implemented, ongoing monitoring and follow-up are essential to ensure their proper functioning. This must be an ongoing task as part of continuous improvement efforts, identifying opportunities for production enhancement through technology.

Levels of Industrial Automation

From a more technical perspective, industrial automation encompasses a series of levels typically represented in a pyramid structure. The phases that comprise it are the following technological elements, enabling process automation and grouped based on their impact and relevance in systems:

  • Management: composed of process control programs and applications, known as ERP software.
  • Planning: where all collected data are controlled for application in the production process.
  • Supervision: the control points where data collected from the higher level are obtained.
  • Control: which includes logical stations where process automation takes place.
  • Field: composed of physical elements such as detectors, sensors, and other technologies serving automation.

Benefits of Industrial Automation

At this point, the benefits of industrial automation are readily apparent. However, the substantial investment required can pose a challenge when taking the definitive step. Nevertheless, it is essential to be aware of these advantages because, ultimately, a company’s competitiveness in today’s market depends on them.

Flexibility and Scalability

Generally, digital solutions applied in the industrial domain tend to be scalable. They are flexible tools that adapt to each organization’s needs and growth, regardless of potential production variability over time within the industry.

Enhanced Security Systems

Improving safety in automated industrial processes is as obvious as it is essential. While this is an entirely expected outcome due to the capabilities of technology, it remains an indisputable advantage in workplace facilities.

Simplified Process Monitoring

Through digitalization, all processes become interconnected, allowing continuous monitoring of the production system, both individually and collectively. This, once again, enables more effective and efficient identification and implementation of improvements, leading to the organization’s continuous growth.

Cost Savings

Cost savings represent one of the primary objectives of industrial automation and are a direct consequence of the unquestionable increase in production efficiency. In most cases, this is a key reason why companies eventually transition to the digitalization of their processes.

Remote Maintenance

In the industrial sector, maintenance is a vital and constant activity. However, automation can significantly enhance maintenance by enabling faster repairs, sometimes resolved through simple system updates. More importantly, it allows remote operation, centralizing this essential task.

Increased Production Efficiency

As previously mentioned, production efficiency deserves special mention due to its relevance in process automation. This advantage is the most visible outcome of this transformation, as it allows for increased production in less time and with greater quality.

Reduced Environmental Impact

Another major concern for any industrial company is its environmental impact. Thanks to technological improvements, it is possible to monitor data such as CO2 emissions and reduce them, further emphasizing the need for change.

The Importance of Safety in Industrial Automation

As explained earlier, safety is one of the aspects that has been significantly enhanced through industrial automation. However, the implementation of new technological elements has generated new protection needs, requiring the expertise of professionals such as Positive Engineering to address these requirements.