Thanks to the recent advancements in artificial intelligence, automation has been impacting every aspect of our lives over the past few years.
From self-driving cars to voice-powered assistants, automation is shifting from a luxury we once imagined to a necessity future generations may not be able to do without.
Before AI made automation a disruptive force in our lives, automation was already disrupting the manufacturing industry, changing the way people did business.
How Has Manufacturing Benefited From Automation?
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the manufacturing industry has been one of the greatest beneficiaries of automation.
The areas it improved range from costs, safety, all the way to reducing redundancy and the carbon footprint.
Here are some benefits of utilizing automation.
Increasing Human Safety
More often than not, human beings have to expose themselves to hazardous working conditions just to get the job done. The problem is that human beings can be quite frail in comparison to machines.
And, whereas you can’t put a price on the life of a human being, you can quite literally put a price on the life of a robot.
So, by taking on some of the more dangerous tasks that human beings had to perform earlier, not only do robots save lives, but they also enhance the employees’ working conditions.
Lowering Manufacturing Costs
Even though the initial outlay may seem huge, employing a robot is cheaper than employing manual labor in the long-run.
When it comes to manual labor, aside from wages, employers have to worry about medical benefits, paid-time-off, injury compensation time, insurance premiums, and much more, but once a robot has paid off its initial cost, the only things left to worry about are energy, maintenance, and repairs.
Best of all, lower costs translate to a higher return on investment.
Robots take over jobs that are dangerous, tedious, or repetitive.
In the process, they give the employees the space to focus on more mentally demanding tasks, such as fine-tuning processes, strategizing, and coming up with new products.
Performing Impossible Manual Tasks
Some tasks are almost impossible to carry out without the help of a machine.
For instance, the device you are currently reading this article on is made up of a processor, a processor that contains billions of transistors, each one so small that no human can be expected to handle them successfully.
So, assembling processors is left to robots that can handle the required accuracy.
If a human is required to produce 100 metal pins, they will never be able to make 100 identical pins: Each pin will have a different height and thickness, resulting in pins of different qualities.
And, even if this difference, called the variance, is so small that it is almost invisible to the naked eye, it will still be there.
On the other hand, when robots try to produce the same 100 pins, the degree of variance will be much smaller than that of the human, guaranteeing a more consistent quality of pins.
Increasing the Quality of the Product
Speaking of quality, robots can achieve a much higher level than any human can.
Along with being more precise than humans, robots don’t make mistakes.
After all, no robot ever produced a bad batch of products just because they were having a bad day at home.
Optimizing the Utilization of the Floor Space
An automated workflow means fewer employees bustling around one another, trying to get the job done.
If a certain operation ends up taking a smaller space of the factory floor, this means that the remaining space can be dedicated to other operations that might have been housed elsewhere.
Robots never tire, never need to go to sleep, and never need to go to the bathroom. What’s more, they can work faster than any human.
All this means that robots can produce much more in a given hour than any human can.
Whereas a human’s productivity will fall with time, robots can work 24/7 and their productivity will stay constant throughout.
Employees can, therefore, work in sync with new automation capabilities, making their work environment safer.
Reducing the Environmental Footprint
Owing to the accuracy we talked about earlier, robots can minimize the amount of waste produced during any given process.
Also, making fewer mistakes leads to using up less material overall.
So, with less waste and more material to spare, it should come as no surprise that automation helps preserve the environment.
Facilitating the Integration of Business Systems
Nowadays, the software running robots has become more and more interoperable with other software, meaning that robots can now communicate with other robots and work with them in sync, which is a big part of what IoT is all about.
And, with all the data that is generated on the factory floor, business owners can increase their competitiveness further by leveraging Big Data and AI, both of which have been integral in the rise of Industry 4.0, the new wave defining the trends of tomorrow.
Where is Automation Going?
Today, the combination of AI, IoT, and other robotic technology has led to leaps and bounds in productivity.
For instance, a smart factory producing cookies uses AI, machine vision, in particular, to ensure that each cookie is perfect, leveraging all the benefits of robotics such as consistency, tirelessness, and higher productivity.
With this new AI system, the factory is now able to keep up with increasing demand and scale up and introduce new products at the drop of a hat.
Customization is an integral part of automation. While it used to be ideal for routine tasks that mass-produce the same product, there has been plenty of research looking to include it in challenging industries that have been resistant so far.
A case in point is the forging and forming industry, a space known for small batch sizes and difficult work conditions. But, with a little hard work and creativity, these industries are bound to be disrupted as well.
As Henry Ford and Toyota brought the advent of automated assembly lines and lean manufacturing, industry 4.0 is bringing new automation capabilities that are disrupting manufacturing.
Accepting new technologies is the only way forward if you don’t want to be left behind.
Joe Peters is a Baltimore-based freelance writer and an ultimate techie. When he is not working his magic as a marketing consultant, this incurable tech junkie devours the news on the latest gadgets and binge-watches his favorite TV shows. Follow him on @bmorepeters