Why Process Automation is Necessary for your Engineering Set-up
Digitization or the process of bringing IT-driven automation in engineering tasks — be it in the manufacturing, heavy equipment, aerospace or other industrial units relying heavily on human labor — is how one can define process automation in engineering set-ups.
Companies aim to bring a diverse set of functions — costing, quality control, supply, administration, and management teams — to work together in a streamlined manner. Process automation in engineering set-ups easily achieves this for SMBs and enterprises alike, besides offering quicker response to market demands. No wonder then, that they are eager to drive process automation.
Let’s go into the details of these benefits with industry opinions of why initiating process automation in your engineering set-up can help your business.
Need for Process Automation in Engineering
Technology is impacting every business, and engineering companies too, are fast adopting technologies like RPA (Robotic Process Automation) and IIoT (Industrial IoT) to increase their productivity.
Considering that small automation can improve the productivity of individual processes by 80 to 100 percent is the most convincing reasons for organizations to adopt process automation technologies without worrying too much about funding the tech integration to achieve this.
Steve Andriole, Thomas G. Labrecque Professor at Villanova University, says, “All “set-ups” need process automation for all of the usual reasons: cost management, speed to market, scalability and quality control, among others. If conceived and implemented properly, process automation — regardless of the vertical application — can deliver these efficiencies.”
Antonio Grasso, Founder, and CEO at Digital Business Innovation Srl explains, “Automation is a broad term and generally refers to a machine that mimics human actions and can perform repetitive tasks without human failings like fatigue, boredom. That said, engineering industry sees a lot of industrial automation, which helps execute processes efficiently and with minimal to no error. These processes are a series of repetitive activities that are executed by machines, commonly known as Operational Technologies.
“In the last few years, the convergence of IT and OT has created more powerful automation: Smart Automation. And, Smart Automation can benefit engineering companies by augmenting their issue resolution in process execution with a cognitive approach that enables readiness in operations while performing tasks effectively at scale. Output grows and product-level cost reduction can enhance competitiveness and profitability.”
Andriole gives further insights on how process automation has changed, and adds, “What’s changed is the capability of process automation technologies driven by the hard and soft process automation vendors, whose services are now available beyond proprietary solution sets in the cloud and from a select number of specialized vendors. What’s still necessary is the domain knowledge necessary to optimize automation tools in engineering design, manufacturing, supply chain management and other areas ripe for soft process automation (Robotic Process Automation). The same is true for robotic-oriented automation (hard automation). Domain knowledge always rules.”
Considering the above opinions, it’s also clear that process automation for engineering companies also helps to:
- Ensure safety in the work environment.
- Offer the possibility of regulating remote teams of global production units and alter production output in response to market demand, or as suggested by the administration and/or higher management of the company.
- Bring in an iterative, lean, and agile process in building engineering automation software by working with a continuous integration and delivery (CI/CD) method.
- Collaborate with various ecosystems for better output, create better value for customers as the automated processes achieve a higher level of precision.
- Reduce cost and improve the quality of output.
How can Engineering Companies Detect Need for Automation
Automation can design, create, develop, and manage systems to work by themselves or require minimal human intervention. However, it’s left to organizational stakeholders to understand the right time or stage of production for automation based on their possibility to invest, their business goals, availability of vendors to execute their requirements and other factors.
Interestingly, both Antonio and Steve believe implementing process automation is a continuous process.
Antonio borrows from a famous quote to emphasize his point, “Like it’s been said, ‘The race for excellence has no finish line’ managers need to chase the innovation path every day. More than at which stage, I prefer to talk about what kind of value the current automation can bring to my processes. A periodic assessment that maps business goals with the latest available process automation technologies can highlight areas of operations that need an infusion of automation.”
Steve seconds this opinion and asserts, “Engineers — and all professionals — should continuously monitor opportunities and threats. It would be silly to assume that engineering — broadly defined — stakeholders are unaware of process automation opportunities. Automation engineers, for example, are well aware of potential applications in manufacturing, agriculture, food processing, and fulfillment, among so many areas, where machines (hard automation) and processes (soft automation) are already in use. The best way for stakeholders — assuming they’re in a position to do so — is to encourage (with positions and funding) that “automation” is pursued at the companies to which they’re connected. Hard (robotic) and soft (software) “automation” is now a bona fide field that optimizes production and delivery across a huge slice of product and service industries. There are professional associations dedicated to the advancement of the domain (the Automation Foundation and the International Society of Automation). Certifications have emerged. This is all but done.”
Engineering industries successful with process automation
The range of applications to support human activities is rapidly expanding. Computer-aided technologies (or CAx) now serve as the basis for organizational tools and these include computer-aided design (CAD) software and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) software. The improved design, analysis, and manufacture of products enabled by CAx has been beneficial for the engineering industry.
Automated industrial machinery and processes can assist in design, implementation, and monitoring of control systems. Today, there are several types of automation tools using ANN (Artificial Neural Network), DCS (Distributed Control System), HMI (Human Machine Interface), SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition), PLC (Programmable Logic Controller) used to synchronize the flow of inputs from (physical) sensors and events with the flow of outputs to actuators and events, Instrumentation, Motion Control and Robotics.
Let’s explore a couple of engineering set-ups, who have successfully carried out process automation in their organizations.
Leading experts for the aviation and aerospace industry, Broetje-Automation, developed its own “aerospace robot”, which adds more power to the component while making it more precise and adaptable to requirements. Their earlier use of articulated-arm kinematics was not serving the purpose when used with stronger drills for clamping or fastening aircraft components. This led to the need for creating the Power RACe (Power Robot Assembly Cell), with a six-axis articulated arm robot. Now, wing boxes, stabilizers, fuselage, and other applications that need intense pressure so they can be attached, are easily fixed. The Power RACe reduced drilling time for titanium parts by up to 50 percent, while automation in titanium and aluminum machining was increased by up to 40 percent. This led to the overall performance going up by 40 percent compared with standard robot applications.
A similar initiative was undertaken by Northvolt, Sweden’s most advanced lithium-ion battery factory. With ABB’s industrial automation expertise, integrating robotics, machine and factory automation, electrification and ABB AbilityTM, ABB’s unified, cross-industry digital offering, into one overall solution, the factory will supply European customers in the automotive and key industries with customizable battery solutions. Northvolt and ABB will continuously optimize products and processes for the factory.
While this may appear easy to implement, those at the helm of having this implemented and executed, the IT operations team, have several things to work out before everything falls into place. Let’s understand how they can initiate process automation smoothly.
How IT Managers can initiate Process Automation in Engineering Set-ups
Now that your organization has decided to bring in process automation, there’s still many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip. So, how can IT managers or the stakeholders involved smoothen this process? Here are a few technical and non-technical pointers to ponder over:
- Have you identified what process automation will achieve for you? Have you checked if it’s for high-volume, repetitive manual tasks to get optimal ROI?
- Before implementing, clearly define the roles of humans and automation to reduce resistance and build transparency and trust.
- Emphasize the need for automation to the teams involved instead of imposing that it’s a management decision, and they are expected to fall in line.
- Be in touch with the human handlers of automation tech to ensure they are adapting well and give support when not.
- Test automation as well as humans to know their state of readiness before implementing.
- Continuous and regular communication is a must until all systems are smoothly operating, and even once they are, there should be periodic checks to ensure smooth operations.
- Reward early adopters and have them buddy up with those who are resistant to change.
By the turn of this decade, if your engineering company has not chosen process automation for its production needs, it will be compelled to face up to this Industry 4.0 change without any time for exploring how-tos. Bring your engineering operations on par now with the Katalyst Technologists expert process automation professionals and make your company future-ready! Get in touch now!
Originally published at https://katalysttech.com on September 24, 2019.