More and more, factories are becoming smart as manufacturers rely on connected devices and big data to improve productivity and efficiency. That said, end users and integrators should be on the lookout for the latest trends in industrial automation.
Industrial automation has certainly become a hot topic among manufacturers who improve operations and efficiency by way of IoT devices and data they generate, together known as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) or Industry 4.0. In fact, IIoT has been labelled as the fourth industrial revolution after the previous transformations – for example machines and production lines – that upended manufacturing over the past decades.
New technologies in industrial automation are creating opportunities for manufacturers around the world. With digitalization and IoT, industrial automation has become a competitive advantage in today's industrial landscape. When integrated end-to-end, automated production is reliable, efficient, transparent, and predictable. This is the promise of industrial automation, a core component of IIoT. Five future trends are summarized here:
Improving accuracy with machine learning
More and more, AI and machine learning have found their way into smart factories. One example is quality control where the system is fed with numerous images of defects and will eventually recognize defects on its own.
More importantly, changing customer demands and their need for customization bring challenges to the manufacturer, who can then rely on machine learning in this regard. Manufacturing units can leverage data analytics and machine learning for their process improvements. These systems help in predicting yield rates at various levels of the supply chain, thereby reducing the cost of raw materials and protecting brand quality. Further, AI provides real-time operational intelligence that supports product lifecycle management which includes process integration, automation and collaboration insights, monitoring, and diagnostics.
Digital twins and industrial automation
The concept of 「digital twins」 allows for the creation of a virtual copy of a machine or system, a process that reduces the dependence on costly prototypes while speeding up the time to market. Digital twins are now active on factory floors, analyzing production efficiencies and prompting predictive maintenance. In the future, manufacturers will be aware of all the components installed in their products. Thereby, allowing them to provide a targeted response to issues and to optimize processes.
Since IIoT devices are in essence connected devices, they are as vulnerable and prone to cyberattacks as other networked devices. Therefore the security of these devices has become critical, too. The advanced industrial cybersecurity solutions available today take a very effective hybrid approach. Ergo, this includes both behavior-based anomaly detection that helps to identify would-be cyber threats using conventional cybersecurity approaches, and rules-based analysis that allows manufacturers to leverage deep inspection in order to uncover malware cyberattacks on the network.
VR and AR
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are being used in several contexts from consumer applications to manufacturing. In the context of industrial and manufacturing automation, VR can help manufacturers simulate a product or environment digitally. Thus, allowing them to interact and immerse themselves within it. AR helps industrial users project digital products or information onto a real-world environment. This is more productive than projecting on a digitally simulated environment like in VR.
The rise of smart industrial robots
Finally, the increasing presence of intelligent industrial robotics on factory floors is a win for the fourth industrial revolution. Although manufacturers have been using robots for decades, the constant development of robotic technologies has undoubtedly broadened the potential applications for smart industrial robots. Thus, today, robots driven by cutting-edge software and vision systems can be programmed to perform a range of tasks, which fits in neatly with the demand for flexible manufacturing.
Adapted from a&s Magazine