How has factory automation evolved? What has changed and how it will change in the future.
How has factory automation evolved?
Factory automation refers to automation technology in the most demanding manufacturing industry in the concept of automation. It refers to the process for automating the production process of the factory and the system for that purpose. The initials of Factory Automation are sometimes called FA (F.A.).
One of the major purposes of factory automation is to save labor in the work that was previously done by people. This is deeply related to technologies in a wide field, such as robots, sensors, and information systems.
In the future, it will be important for the manufacturing industry to utilize factory automation. To think about it, let’s take a look back at the history of factory automation.
It was not long after the end of world war that I began to think about factory automation in Japanese industry. At that time, engineers dispatched from the United States were receiving guidance on various technologies, mainly domestic infrastructure projects. From this guidance, the need for automatic control increased.
In the mid-1950s, steel companies became at the center of factory automation penetration. Steel-related companies were closest to modernization due to military demand during the war. Against this background, we succeeded in continuous rolling and casting processes using machine tools and enabling mass production. With the development of the materials industry, which can be said to be the foundation of all industries, the world entered an era of high economic growth.
In the mid-1960s, factory automation rapidly advanced with the advent of ICs. The ic-embedded machine tools enabled unprecedented work and created several industrial robots.
From 1970 to 1980, instruments became increasingly digital, and machine tools were connected to computers to operate. At the same time, sensors were also developed, and high-precision control had begun to be possible. In addition, distributed control systems that provide control devices in each part and link the overall control as a system become mainstream.
In the 1990s, distributed control systems became more sophisticated, while computers were revolutionized. Models that were previously called “FA computers” became called “industrial computers” due to the expanded application range, and multitasking became possible. In addition, the concept of IT become important, leading to a factory automation system that integrates information, networks, and control.
What has factory automation changed?
Let’s take a look at how factory automation has changed since 2000.
At first, factory automation focused only on cost reduction through labor saving. However, there is also a focus on benefits other than cost savings. The specific benefits of factory automation such as:
- Reduction of labor costs
This is the first thing that attracted attention. Labor cost can be reduced by labor saving. In addition to reducing the number of workers working, labor saving will improve the leveling of work, so that newcomers can reduce the cost of education.
- Quality stability and improvement
Mistakes always occur when people do the same work repeatedly. Factory automation eliminates these quality variations and human errors, and can be expected to stabilize and improve quality.
- Shortening production cycles
Modern factory automation requires not only labor saving and labor saving of work that people were doing manually, but also further improving efficiency. Factory automation dramatically increases productivity when the factory can be operated 24 hours a day. This shortening of production cycles is also a major advantage of factory automation.
- Work implementation regardless of the environment
In factories, it may be difficult for people to work, such as high and low temperature environments and environments where noise and heavy goods are transported. However, as factory automation progresses, work can be carried out even in environments where it is difficult for such people to work.
While factory automation offers many advantages, there are also disadvantages such as:
- Anxiety that workers’ jobs will disappear
For those who have been working, there may be anxiety that work will disappear due to the progress of labor saving. However, factory automation aims to streamline the process, save labor, and assign creative work to people. Therefore, even if factory automation advances, it is thought that it will shift to creative work such as planning work.
- Initial investment at the time of equipment installation
The labor cost that can be reduced, which was first noted, is an advantage only beyond the initial investment amount at the time of equipment installation. High-efficiency labor-saving and labor-saving equipment also costs more expensive to install. Whether this is a merit or a disadvantage requires a variety of pro-rations.
- Difficult to customize
If customization is required for each product, factory automation can be difficult to handle. When proceeding with factory automation, the work process should be leveled as much as possible.
What happens to factory automation?
In recent years, a major change has been coming to factory automation. It’s a change in the very purpose, such as what factory automation is for and what it’s trying to do.
Until now, the purpose of factory automation has been the realization of “production that does not come into the hands of people”, such as labor saving. This is changing dramatically through the development of information and communication technology (ICT), and the evolution and spread of IoT.
The change is coming in places that save labor in the production process. Until now, it has been attracting attention to save labor in the work itself. However, now, instead of reducing the number of man-made tools required for production, it is important to know how to handle information obtained from all parts of the process.
In the factory where IoT has been realized, production equipment and equipment are connected to the Internet and all information is collected. Based on this information, we adjust the behavior of equipment and robots to visualize and manage production status. Modern smart factory automation accumulates and analyzes this information and provides feedback to the next production.
Edge computing is an important technology that further evolves the use of IoT. By optimizing the processing of the vast amount of data collected, more accurate and precise behavior of equipment and robots is realized. By adding edge computing to modern factory automation, we are making the connection with ICT more connected and more effective.
Factory automation takes it to the next stage
We thought about the origins and development of factory automation, and the future evolution. Factory automation, which has been advancing since the end of world war II, is about to evolve to the next level. Not only the speed of the behavior of devices and robots, but also the speed at which information is handled will become a theme in the future. Instead of just automation, how to effectively utilize the information generated from it, and how to improve the accuracy of it will be important in factory automation in the future.