Put simply, industrial automation is the process of using technology to control production processes. Essentially, the technique tends to take away much of the work done by humans and delegate it to machines and robots. In other words, it is the use of control systems to handle different industrial processes, thus replacing human beings in the industry. Now, before discussing the future of industrial automation, we will briefly shed light on its history and today’s industrial automation.
Brief History of Industrial Automation
The most recent history of industrial automation in the West dates back to 1913 when American automaker Ford Motors launched its car-production assembly line. Historically, this epoch-making move transformed the auto-landscape. The emergence of this new process, which was initially manually-driven, lead to the complete automation of car production. Interestingly, the automation of assembly line significantly reduced car assembly time and revved up production.
Going eastward, a similar event played out in Japan in the 1930s, where another automaker used advanced tools to enhance its productivity. Some of the tools that the company employed were the first micro-switch, electrical timer and protective relays. When the Second World War started in 1939, many countries employed industrial automation to churn out warships, landing crafts, tanks, and fighter jets. Between 1940s and 1950s, Western Europe took the process to a new level with German mathematician Imgard Flugge-Lotz developing a theory called Discontinuous Automatic Controls. This theory would later be applied in aircraft navigation and fire prevention systems.
Today’s Application of Industrial Automation
Today, experts have grouped industrial automation into types. These types of industrial automation form what is also regarded as industrial automation technologies. Well, we briefly explain them below.
- Programming Logic Controller (PLC): This is the use of preprogrammed computers to drive the critical processes in the industry.
- Human Machine Interface (HMI): Well, this covers the use of software resources to enhance the interaction between human operators and machinery in order to achieve desired goals.
- Artificial Neural Networks (ANN): A network of computing systems that functions like the human brains used to improve user’s information processing.
- Robotics: The use of robots to carry out hazardous and difficult industrial tasks.
- Distributed Control Systems (DCS): This is the connection of all the relevant industrial processes to a central point for easy operation and improved result.
- Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCDA): The interaction among relevant components of the industry for increased supervision and effective data-gathering.
The Future of Industrial Automation
Now, this brings us to an important question: What is the future of industrial automation? From the series of events unfolding today, experts are bullish on what the future holds for this evolving process. In contrast to experts’ views, some ‘victims’ have railed against industrial automation. According to them, the process creates massive unemployment. Well, we have summarized experts’ futuristic views of industrial automation below.
- Simplification: Experts strongly believe that industrial automation would continuously shrink business processes, thus making it less cumbersome. Usually, as companies continuously grow, their production lines or processes become more complicated. But analyzing from the futuristic standpoint of industrial automation, the tech advancement would simplify such processes further. Factually, the future would see robotics play more pivotal role. This is the case as industrial engineers focus on building multitasking robots. Consequently, they would perform more tasks than do today’s machines and workers. In summary, this means that these robots would be more efficient, thus simplifying industrial tasks considerably.
- Improved production time: Even though industrial automation has reduced the amount of time spent on manufacturing, it is expected that the process would continue to reduce it. In one research, it was estimated that 35% of time would be spent on routine work by 2030. This makes business sense because robots never get tired and also undertake dangerous tasks. By doing so, production time in companies that have fully automated their business processes would improve.
- Expansion: Also, another study revealed that Year 2025 would see industrial automation expand its scope to bring in sectors that have not been fully automated today. Explaining further, the researchers noted that manufacturing, warehousing and transportation, and sales would holistically embrace this tech evolution. As a result, 10-15% of the jobs from the sector will be automated. By 2035, people aversed to industrial automation are likely to lose their jobs as the process would control up to 50% of the jobs in those aforementioned three sectors.
- Affordability: No doubt, automating industrial processes can be a capital-intensive project. However, researchers believe that the process would become more budget-friendly in the coming years. They believe that why the process is still expensive today is that human laborers still run most of the processes in the industry. So, the cost of robots would tank by 65% in 5 years’ time when things change. Although the cost of keeping human labor would keep rocketing, entrepreneurs would be compelled to drop humans for robots, a report forecasted.
- Job Creation: Today, many critics haul the proponents of industrial automation over the coals because they fear the process is taking over the jobs hitherto done by human laborers. But the trend would change in the coming years. They argue that before today’s technology took the center stage, people were worried sick that it would render tens of thousands of workers jobless. Nevertheless, technology has created more jobs that it ever destroyed. Robotics, blockchain technology, artificial intelligence, telecommunication and many others are new sectors that technology has introduced, thus creating millions upon millions of new jobs. Well, researchers firmly hold that the same trend would play out in the world of industrial automation. So, by 2030, it is projected that artificial intelligence, a segment of industrial automation, would have an economic impact of $15.7 trillion.
Final Thoughts From the impacts of industrial automation today, the future of automation seems bright. Still, it is noteworthy that though many researchers and scholars believe that this technology would add more jobs to the global economy, they don’t seem to agree on the definite number of jobs. For many critics, the discrepancy goes to show that various forecasts of industrial automation creating more jobs is a hoax. So far, many observers are ambivalent about the role of automation in industry. While we wouldn’t take any position on what the future holds for the technology, it would be interesting to watch how it all plays out in the coming years.