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CES Blog

What is Industrial Automation?

  • August 8, 2019
  • Written By: Brooke Williams
  • No Comments

Industrial automation uses control systems such as computers and automated machinery to handle repetitive processes and tasks more efficiently, freeing up employees to do higher-level work that machines can’t handle. Industrial automation also helps increase quality, productivity, consistency, and flexibility in a manufacturing process, all while allowing the plant to run longer hours. By increasing energy efficiency and bringing in better investment returns, automated facilities can pay for themselves quickly thanks to lower operating costs, reduced lead times, and increased output. We’ll uncover why and where industrial automation is getting much more popular, and how CES can help you accomplish a more efficient and safer automated facility. To start, let’s take a look at why industrial automation is gaining popularity.

Increased Safety

Automated facilities generally operate more safely than their non-automated counterparts. Not only do higher safety standards improve employee well-being, but it also saves engineering time and offers better investment security.  

According to Siemens, one of our partnered vendors, safety is one of the most important aspects to consider when transitioning to an automated system. Safety Integrated is a concept that ensures safety through the entire production process. This consistent safety standard means fewer components and less wiring, all from one control system, which saves space while also allowing for maximum scalability and flexibility.

The importance of safety doesn’t just stop there. Studies show that a mature safety program incorporates three key elements to ensure best practices are followed: culture (behavior), compliance (procedure), and capital (technology deployment). When all of these core elements are implemented in an automated facility, manufacturers see a five to seven percent increase in overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) while reducing injuries by nearly half. With a safety culture in place, Lockheed Martin found that they were able to increase employee productivity by 24% and reduce factory costs by 20%.

When developing a safety strategy for your automated facility, think about the following as the ultimate end goal:

  • Does this simplify your machine safety design and validation?
  • Will it help maximize results for your facility?
  • Will it allow you to measure the value of safety in your operations?

With these questions answered, you’ll have a better idea of how automation will impact the safety standards in your facility and how it’ll help boost productivity.

Increased Energy Savings

As new technologies make automation more popular, it is quickly becoming the key driver for better efficiency and savings in businesses and plants across the US. A more efficient facility leads to streamlined production processes and a consistently produced product. This helps make companies much more competitive in the industrial markets while lowering waste and reducing energy consumption. As calls for higher productivity and greater efficiency dominate the conversation around automation, companies will begin implementing better connectivity between the factory floor, machines, and the business network to see where they can improve. After all, an integrated facility is a smarter facility. Now that you understand why industrial automation is gaining popularity, let’s take a look at where it’s becoming more popular.

Connecting LED Lighting with Your Lighting Network

LED lighting is quickly becoming the new standard for residential, commercial, and industrial applications, and for good reason. These energy-efficient, long-lasting fixtures can reduce energy consumption by 60% and require little-to-no maintenance. They are also extremely resilient with the ability to withstand harsh elements such as hot and freezing temperatures, and even hazardous environments.

But how does LED lighting help industrial automation? When paired with connected lighting systems and advanced lighting controls, LED lighting significantly saves time and money, reduces waste, and helps businesses gather data about their energy consumption, which is one of the most crucial aspects of automation. By collecting this data, companies can gain insight on how to eliminate energy waste in their building, helping them get an edge over their competition while revolutionizing the way they use power.

Automation Technology in Agriculture

Whether you realize it or not, agriculture is a huge market for industrial automation, especially for dairy farms. From their pumping and drying systems to managing chemical disbursement and metering controls, the movement of larger companies into the dairy industry has changed the landscape of dairy farming in the US. But it doesn’t stop with just dairy farms.

MCG is a partnered vendor with CES and a leader in industrial automation technologies. Justin Sofield, a project manager for MCG, identifies the agriculture industry as an area that can see future growth.

“From conveyor automation and water pumping systems to grain storage and climate-controlled facilities for livestock, farms are beginning to see the impact that automation can have on their productivity,” he said. “And this is only the tip of the iceberg. As automated systems get more involved with agriculture, there’s no telling where the ceiling is.”

Automated HVAC

HVAC is a technology-heavy system that requires a control system to regulate heating and air conditioning. However, a lot of HVAC systems that are not automated spend a lot of time heating or cooling a space that has nobody in it. This waste contributes heavily toward energy consumption. An automated HVAC control system works with the thermostat and installed timers to establish a comfortable range in buildings and rooms only when necessary. When paired with sensors, collecting real-time data on heating and cooling can help companies identify how to cut energy costs overall.

Smart Water
Filtering and pumping clean drinking water and removing wastewater is a growing concern among environmentally conscious residents and businesses. To better automate the movement of water, inverter-controlled pumps can match the supply of water with the demand more closely. By allowing more water during peak times and reducing water when demand is low, like at night, industrial water facilities noticed less leakage, less required maintenance, and lower energy consumption across the board. When paired with self-diagnostic checks that can automatically report its findings, automated pumping systems have allowed for smarter water distribution at a time when water conservation is more important than ever.

Putting It All Together

When most people think of industrial automation, images of conveyor belts and robots putting cars together are probably the first things that come to mind. We’re here to tell you that’s not entirely true. Although production assembly isa big part of automation, it certainly isn’t the only one. And as automation technology advances, data collection sensors and safety measures will be implemented more and more to better streamline an already efficient process.

MCG Project Manager Sofield notes that the most important features of industrial automation are possible thanks to sensors and technology geared toward electrical protection and product consistency.

“Quality control panels use cameras and sensors to ensure consistency for all manufactured products in an assembly line,” he said. “For instance, if these panels are looking for microfractures and they see one, they would trip the sensors, and the machine’s arm comes out to pull the glass out of the system before moving on. Not only does it keep the system running through the facility, but it keeps everything else flowing smoothly while ensuring a safe, quality product.”

Power Monitoring

Although automated quality control is important, monitoring power supplies is vital to a safer facility. To better protect the electrical activity of the automated machines, relays are used to mechanically switch circuits on or off with an electromagnet. With several different types of relays available, it’s important to consider the function that you need the relay for. Power relays are engineered for high-current applications, hazardous location relays are made for harsh environments, card relays are small devices meant to maximize available space, and timer relays provide a delay functionality.

Lastly, switches are another key component that can help operators interact with an automated device. From providing real-time data to powering the device, switches can be used to configure and program it to suit the automated facility’s needs while ensuring optimal performance.

City Electric Supply is a long-time supplier of cutting-edge technologies. Partnered with vendors that understand automation such as Siemens, Lutron, and MCG, we can help you with automated systems, automated lighting, motion controls, and more. Visit your local CES branch to find out more about the automation solutions we can provide for you.

 

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