The Growing Influence of Automation in Manufacturing

Manufacturers are continually developing and using technology to automate processes that were formerly performed by employees. While there may be advantages and disadvantages to this type of automation, different levels of automation offer various opportunities for forward-thinking companies. Here is a closer look at some of the potential benefits of automation and the different levels at which automation can be implemented at a manufacturing facility.

Many of the benefits of automation are obvious. First and foremost, automation reduces the number of employees that are required to complete a job, which can lower payroll costs. An increased reliance on automation can also allow manufacturers to produce greater output, as machinery runs more quickly and efficiently than people. This can result in higher levels of production and help reduce downtime.

Another benefit is that automation can produce higher levels of consistency and accuracy, which improves overall quality of a product. Finally, automation can help reduce the per-unit cost of making products, which helps boost profits.

However, there are some drawbacks to automation. While fewer employees may be necessary to operate the facility, the remaining workers may need more advanced and diverse training and education to be able to address any issues with automated equipment. The skills required of employees in the past may not be sufficient to address the evolving technological advances of equipment today. If automated equipment breaks down, it can slow or even stop production until the issue is addressed; the manufacturing facility must have access to qualified repair technicians to resolve any problems promptly and correctly.

Automation is sometimes divided into different levels that define how automated a system or process is. For example, level one may be an entirely manual process that requires employees to perform tasks that cannot be automated. Level two may include a manufacturing process that is automated but still requires an employee to operate or load a machine. The third level typically includes fully automated systems that are part of a manufacturing line; however, the line still includes some manual processes. The fourth level is usually a fully automated system that requires no human intervention.

The more automated the processes are, the more benefits a manufacturer can accrue. However, a fully automated system is vulnerable to breakdowns which can stop the entire production line. For more information about these stages of automation, check out the accompanying resource.

Infographic provided by Preston Eastin