What Are Trends in Industrial Automation?

The world continuously changes around us due to advancements in the technological realm. Such advancements and progress can be readily seen in industrial automation. Automation includes everything from conveyor systems to full production lines with safety systems, data collection, and more. Today, we will take a look at the trends that are surfacing in industrial automation, allowing you to get a better understanding of what advancements we expect to see in this industry in the coming years.

Automation varies greatly depending on the particular process at hand and degree of automation required. An example of automation is a conveyor system. Equipped with start-stop arrangement and sensors, conveyor systems serve important roles in a number of industries. The start-stop circuit enables automatic control of the motor driving the conveyor. Meanwhile, the sensors positioned along the conveyor produce signals to the main controller. These signals, in turn, provide the programmable logic controller (PLC) with the “go” to turn the conveyor ON or OFF.

Previously, this process would be manually carried out, leaving other processes unattended to. Instead, the conveyor system allows operators to focus their attention on packaging and other duties that improve workflow. To optimize the automation of this conveyor line further, additional equipment and programming can be incorporated. For example, variable frequency drives (VFDs) can enhance the conveyor system’s production, safety, and quality, allowing the system to also run at varying speeds, detect damaged goods on the conveyor, and gather additional data for analysis.

One of the biggest trends that began surfacing last year in industrial automation included advancements in industrial internet of things (IIoT). IIoT is considered the basis of automating manufacturing processes in order to produce a more advanced, simplified, and analytical approach to the manufacturing industry. Additionally, IoT enables companies to automate processes and equips establishments with the tools necessary to gather, review, and store data.  

Similarly, a new serial communication protocol called IO-Link, or IOL, is gaining traction in industrial automation and is popularly used by PLCs and their automation processes. This communication protocol referred to as IEC 61131 supports the quick transfer of data that shares device identification, service data, processes data, faults, digital signals, and more. Today, IOL is becoming an established industrial standard and is being integrated more often in automation. In addition, IOL allows for ease of installation, increased operating efficiency, and reduced maintenance stress. More than that, IOL offers in-depth diagnostic visibility, allowing engineers and maintenance personnel the opportunity to better respond to issues.

In the sector of machine learning, industrial automation has revolutionized many processes. Machine learning consists of systems that are fed real-time data, process it, and react accordingly. These programs assist with inventory management, warehouse cost reduction, asset tracking, supply and production forecasting, and more. Machine learning’s artificial intelligence (AI) provides an automated learning ability that does not require additional programs. As they are continuously fed data, these machines are always learning.

The last area that is gaining traction in industrial automation is collaborative robots, or cobots. Cobots were produced with the intention that they would work side-by-side with humans in the workforce. However, the biggest deterrent to their actual implementation has been their slow rate of speed. Working much slower than their human counterparts, manufacturing may suffer with their integration. Nonetheless, they can assist with slow-paced product movement, mundane task completion, and other simple duties. As of recently, they have found use in restaurants flipping burgers and taking orders.

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