Economical Solutions from Automation

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Date: 2011-08-04

Economical Solutions As we enter a cost conscious world, where there is a need for higher profitability, the call for automation is increasing. The cost reduction atmosphere being generated and increased by a recession is creating a more amplified need for better competitive positions. Costs are usually affiliated with requirements of the desired product or service. Many companies adhering to manual or outdated machine systems may find themselves in a non-competitive position or forced into a lower profitability.


Lowering manufacturing and administration cost in man hours, facility cost, as well as the energy needs greatly enhances the competitive position. A reduction in facility requirements also may result in lower property taxes and insurance expenses. Reducing human labor cost also may lower your liability and compensation insurance cost. Enhanced manufacturing from automated processes at many times may be reapplied to other manufacturing and process needs, especially in robotics where it may weld in one capacity and then drill and tap in another. Many material handling systems can be rearranged as needed. Automation can greatly reduce wasted energy usage such as VFDs and load shedding when motors and other items such as start up. This also reduces the peak demand that many utility companies bill against. Another aspect is minimizing idling when one assembly area may be waiting on another.
Building automation also can reduce energy cost by shutting down lighting and environmental needs when no one is present as well as items left on such as copiers and computer terminals.

Since automated devices can operate at a faster and more reliable capacity, they are becoming more and more desired. Where precise repetition is needed at quicker intervals the application of a well designed automated process is more cost effective. The use of vision sensors will also help in quality assurance by identifying defective items as well as maintaining uniform production.

Turning to automation is more emphatic when safety is an issue. It makes more sense to put at risk an automated machine than a person, such as in chemical fires, bomb defusing or even military operations. Our space exploration is being furthered more by robotic endeavors than human, lowering the possibility of lost lives.  Redundant networking and processing will be the standard requirements in many manufacturing and processing plants to ensure that when people are involved they will not be harmed in any way. This technology has been added to alarm systems that are triggered by the unsafe and unwanted conditions such as a fire or earthquake.

Security, both in human and product is enhanced with automation and networking processes.
When it is important such as Food and Beverage as well as Pharmaceutical and Municipal Water to have less human contact, automation becomes an outstanding ally in protecting the end product from contamination or sabotage. Data acquisition products and SCADA software allows for distant monitoring of the ongoing process from just a few feet to many miles away. With the addition of cameras real time viewing can be achieved. General security can also be attached to cameras, occupancy and intruder detection systems with the ability to call out to local police and fire agencies.

Networks have developed and merged that exchange and process data at different levels and places.
 Sensing, Processing and Output activation can be done locally or at distant locations as desired and needed. The ability to communicate the activities on the factory and facility levels to accounting and management is also possible. With the use of RFID, updatable information can be modified as needed, including tracking the item and its usage. The diversity of networks such as wireless, fiber optic, and Ethernet has merged both speed and security. Decision making can be either derived from a manual or automated process. Real time profit and loss can be viewed instantly since many processes such as sales, purchasing, accounts payable and other accrued expenses can be applied as processes are realized. Banking processes can also be automated such as incoming revenue and outgoing expenses.  In the future, stock holders may even be able to see the company’s profits or losses in real time. They already can buy or sell in an automatically based on stock values.

What is the extent to which automation can be applied? Just about to anything. If we look at human processes such as observing, touching, evaluating what is around and then contemplating what the desired end result is, he then can either by hand or with tooling produce with logical sequence of actions that produce the desired entity. Sensing devices can measure the conditions of just about anything now from where an object is, it’s position, weight, color or shape. We have developed highly discerning vision sensors that can operate as well as our eyes. These sensors also can see beyond our capabilities such as infrared, x-ray and other wavelengths.  The many inputs available can then be sent to processors, such as PCs and PLCs with faster and faster scan speeds that can process faster than our reflexes. The outputs can operate many devices today such as motors, actuators, lights, bells or send e-mail and text messages. We even see robotics today mimicking human sensing, processing and acting on an individual basis, communicating to other processes and robots. The development of NANO technology is even making  micro robots that can be used in medical and other areas inaccessible by humans.

As better and cheaper automation devices are developed including software, the realization of an more automated world can be achieved. We now see vending machines communicating wirelessly to outside areas. More and more transportation operations are effectively being automated, including parking a car or flying a plane. We see automation being used in the entertainment industry including toys that talk and move to specified actions or sound such video games that react to your movements.

With the use of modeling, as used in weather predicting, and with data acquisition techniques, maybe future economic disasters can be avoided with the use of computers developing alternative routes for us to use when an event occurs, maybe even be able to steer us from unwanted results. This modeling process could also be used by heads of government as an aid in decision making, especially, if they can foresee the outcome of an action created by legislation. All we have to remember, automation is a tool not an enemy. It may even turn out to be a good friend.

David Pailley, Technical Sales Engineer

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ICP DAS USA,Inc.