Automation: Are you ready for the revolution?

Like it or Not, Automation is Here to Stay: Are you ready for the revolution?

Automation is driving a revolution the likes of which have not been seen since the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century. Just as in the Industrial Revolution before – there will be winners, losers, pioneers, and naysayers – but the paradigm shift cannot be stopped. Simply put, manufacturing enterprises must embrace automation or face certain death.

Today’s economic climate calls for ever more efficient and cost-effective solutions. It calls for higher and higher quality standards which must be met for continued growth. We have now reached the point where quality and efficiency improvements lie hand in hand with automation. Automated systems not only provide extensive efficiency and cost savings but also unparalleled process control and repeatability that simply cannot be provided within the realm of human performance. Gone are the days of implementing automation for a simple ROI.

Automation is now required to remain relevant in today’s markets which grow ever the more competitive and globalized. Robots are no longer used simply to replace tasks which were once performed by humans. We are now entering an exciting new landscape where humans and robotics work together to complete tasks and collect information in unison. Automation no longer simply means replacing a step in a process with automated systems. Machine learning, automated workflows, data collection via IoT, and increasingly friendlier user interfaces allow us to maximize the benefits of automation without requiring the setup times or specialized skills that were once required in the early days of automation.

Whether it be on the shop floor or in the office, recent studies have found that up to 87 percent of all operations performed by production workers can be automated. But does this mean that most of the workforce will soon be out of a job? Quite the contrary has actually been found. Implementation of automation allows us to focus our time on more forward-thinking tasks, allowing us to better plan for the future. It allows us to focus more on quality, continuous improvement and tightened controls rather than just simply producing a product. It removes labourers from previously dangerous operations and allows them to be more efficient with their time. And what does all this added efficiency do for us? It leads to growth, reduction of overhead, and reduced processing costs – all results which allow businesses to expanded and add to their workforce. Certainly, some jobs will be eliminated, but on the macro scale, the resulting growing economy will create more jobs. Take for instance the late Agricultural Revolution.

Before the late Agricultural Revolution, most people on the planet worked in agriculture. Now only a small percentage of the population is required to allow the agricultural market to feed the rest of the population. But what happened to all of the farmers? Was a massive chunk of the population suddenly put out of work? As we transition from one era to another, the skill sets of the workforce adapted; this, in turn, allowed us to create new markets, implement new innovations, and grow the global economy. Certainly, there were people in this time which did not transfer their skill sets and suffered because of it but the world adapted. The world grew because of these adaptations. These adaptations allowed us to focus on innovations which allowed for the next major economic revolution in the Industrial era. Efficiencies from the Industrial Revolution again allowed for the creation of new markets, particularly in service, which again expanded the economy.  During this transition, there was not suddenly rampant unemployment but the creation of new market segments and skill sets. The current adaptation of the automated revolution will be no different.

So where do we stand currently with automation? There are have been several major steps along the way. The first steps have been in place since the 1970’s. This allowed for basic sensing and task automation to automate the simplest of tasks such valves and sensors communicating via PLC controls. Next came more adoption of basic sensing and controls to fully implement and better control processes. We also saw more advanced systems such as vision camera systems and early machine learning to further optimize processes and gain additional control. We now are moving into a new segment of automation in which humans work collaboratively with robots. Where augmented reality and AGV’s simplify tasks and improve productivity. We are also seeing machine learning blossom in the deep learning and artificial intelligence. Automation now moves to include our automated systems in areas such as engineering and management rather than just simply maintaining a shop floor focus only. As these innovations continue to drive the bar higher and higher, the current manufacturing climate continues to grow and it remains one of the most exciting fields of industry.

As we continue to explore new depths with our relatively new found relationship with automation, the sky becomes the limit of what we are able to achieve as a species. This marks a truly exciting time for the human race but will no doubt cause disruptions along the way. There will be winners as well as losers but we will move on improving as a whole. The automation revolution is coming; make sure you are prepared to embrace it and move forward or be prepared to meet the same fate as those who have resisted change and progress in the past.