December 14, 2021

Visionary Manufacturing Automation

Manager or Industrial engineer working and control robotic withMy first exposure to the industrial manufacturing world was several years ago in a refinery originally built sometime in the 1930s. It still had a great deal of pneumatic instrumentation throughout the facility, with large wall panels of chart recorders that the operators used to monitor and control the plant. I still occasionally see pneumatic instrumentation systems on site visits, but they are mostly a thing of the past. Today we are busy digitizing our manufacturing automation and control systems, with terms like Smart Manufacturing, IIoT, Industry 4.0 and Manufacturing Analytics used frequently.

Many companies, however, are trying to take advantage of these new technologies and strategies using the same style thinking that prevailed when pneumatic instrumentation was introduced to the manufacturing industry. They are scrambling to deploy solutions they hope will solve their issues, make them more money, help them fight their competition and stay current.

What they need is a vision of the future. And based upon this vision, they can then set up a strategy to get there, a plan to make it happen and goals along the way.

Vision is so important when implementing any technology. Manufacturing automation technology tends to run about 10 years behind the latest technology trends and has a traditional lifecycle of 20+ years. This is largely due to the need for it to be absolutely bullet proof, with requirements to interrupt production as little as possible, and the large costs associated with implementing new technology. Your vision should be how you see your facility operating in the future, without wasting time or money chasing the latest and greatest systems only to find out it will not ultimately get you where you want to be.

That means your vision should look out 6 months, 1 year, 5 years and 10 years from now. It should include topics like:

  • Labor Force — What are the needs, limitations and skillsets?
  • Machinery — What is the status of reliability and obsolescence? Are there options for improvement or replacement?
  • Robotics — Robotic equipment has made great advances and can perform many activities.
  • Information Management — While the digital age is upon us, technology in this area is often hit or miss if not applied correctly with a clear definition of what the objective is.
  • Automation and Controls — Many current systems are 20+ years old and need to be updated or replaced.
  • Flexibility — The customer demand of the times is choice, and this means having as much flexibility as possible in your manufacturing processes.
  • Consistency — This is one of the largest ongoing challenges in most manufacturing facilities. Many quality issues are caused by designs not being able to sustain consistency.
  • Durability — Manufacturing environments can be rough places for sensitive equipment or delicately designed systems.
  • Ease of Operation — New technology should not be so complex that it takes a master scientist to operate and maintain it.

To establish a vision like this you first must know what’s possible, both right now and what the trends indicate will be available down the road. This can be difficult when you are busy working to keep your plant up and running day to day. You may benefit from an outside resource with experience in the industry and knowledge of the technology and trends. This could include product vendors, engineering teams and implementation partners, but the best source for this in the industrial automation and control realm is a systems integrator or engineering group that has good partnerships with multiple product vendors, in-house engineering, multi-discipline implementation ability and solid knowledge of current and future technology trends. This partner should walk you through a vision setting operational assessment session to determine your needs and goals. Be sure to include input from your internal teams, including leadership, operations, quality and maintenance, to ensure buy-in support for implementation.

Faith Technologies is uniquely positioned with resources, experience and partnerships to guide you through your vision setting, becoming a trusted advisor in implementing your visionary manufacturing automation strategy. Reach out to me today to learn more.