Automation in manufacturing is the process of making equipment or systems operate automatically, with limited to no assistance from humans. It is one sector of the global economy that is rapidly automating, with profound effects on how products are produced and consumed.
Called the Fourth Industrial Revolution, modern manufacturing processes are a coalescence of advanced digital and physical technologies where robotics, automation, the Internet of Things (IoT), and artificial intelligence are working synergistically. Manufacturing automation takes advantage of automation tools that mimic both human physical and mental capacities to improve productivity while lowering costs. Manufacturing automation is disrupting older industries wholesale while improving lives for consumers and businesses across the supply chain.
Improved Product Availability
As manufacturing companies emerge from the pandemic facing a number of challenges, those who’ve automated their processes are capitalizing on opportunity. These companies are investing in both robotics and process automation software to improve the manufacturing process, as well as data-collection software. These steps have not only improved lead times overall but have changed the business calculus to allow for increased onshoring. More efficient manufacturing combined with reducing supply-chain inefficiencies is expected to be a boon to the consumer who will see better product availability and lower costs for goods.
Shortening Time to Market
Decreased lead times and onshoring are not only ensuring that products remain on shelves but are helping bring new products to market faster. The benefits to both consumers and manufacturers are clear. Shortened time to market often means better ROI for businesses, meaning the incentive to patent new products and make them available to customers is strong. While this means new products are always a bit more expensive when they first become available, prices will stabilize faster as automation rapidly boosts supplies.
Lower Costs and Prices
There are a number of factors in determining production costs (the whole cost of producing a manufactured good). Material costs, manufacturing costs, and shipping costs all contribute to the total cost of a product. Labor costs are one line-item expected to see a significant reduction as automation continues. While consternation abounds over what a safer and less physically demanding work environment means for the laborer, this development is expected to improve life for the consumer and lead to higher demand for manufactured goods. The resulting competition and increased product availability mean more alternatives and a higher degree of niche-need servicing, including product personalization and customization.
Innovation for Better Products
The pandemic highlighted the need for improved adaptability from a manufacturing sector that experienced poor ramp-up times as they shifted to the production of masks, ventilators, and sanitizers. Automation doesn’t just promise to improve the efficiency of existing manufacturing processes, it will help manufacturing centers be more adaptable, allowing them to quickly convert existing lines in accordance with demand.
This is where two of the three types of manufacturing automation can shine, programmable and flexible automation. Programmable manufacturing uses existing machinery but the software governing it is modified to produce a different product. Sophisticated software can make minute changes for product personalization and quality control. Flexible automation incorporates modifiable machinery paired with adaptable software. Manufacturers with dynamic automated assembly lines can shift production on-demand, meeting needs in real time as a result of minimized ramp-up times.
The third type of automated manufacturing, fixed automation, may be less adaptable overall but can be fine-tuned for highly detailed product changes that lead to process repetition. Repeatable processes are refinable, leading to higher quality and lower costs for consumers. The three will combine to create a product landscape that allows them to enjoy products from all over the globe more quickly, with consumers able to monitor and eventually modify orders in real-time as they move through the global supply chain.