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Factory automation and environmental benefits

Factory automation, often referred to as industrial automation, is the use of control systems to operate processes without human intervention. These systems generally include software, computers, and robotics. The benefits of automation include increases in productivity, accuracy, flexibility, and worker safety while providing overall cost savings. These cost savings for the manufacturer can be transferred to the customer.

The current trend in industrial automation is shifting toward smart manufacturing and Robotic Process Automation (RPA). Through the use of IoT connected devices, data analytics, robotics, RPA practices, and machine learning/artificial intelligence, the concept of “Smart Manufacturing” will lead to an overall more effective and efficient workplace that is both safer for workers and more profitable for employers. One of the great benefits of smart manufacturing and controlled RPA is the ability to create greener factories and, gradually, an overall healthier environment.

Manufacturing processes use nearly one-quarter of the energy in the United States and one-third of the energy across the globe. Manufacturers are beginning to realize that going green is not only good for the environment, it’s good for their bottom line. While building green factories may require initial fees up front, going green can save companies money overall. In 2013, the International Energy Agency stated that manufacturers wasted $80B worth of electricity because of outdated manufacturing processes. Updating their manufacturing processes to have a more favorable ecological impact will also make companies more popular with consumers, as indicated by a recent Nielsen survey.

With more automated and “smarter” factories come numerous environmental benefits, of which a few are listed here:

  • Manufacturers can use analytics to adjust energy loads on machines
  • Lower heating requirements
  • Minimal material waste through robots streamlining operations
  • Lower cycle times and increased production, leading to less energy output
  • Combining/streamlining processes and the compactness of some robotics, which can reduce the need for factory floor space

A large number of industries are implementing environmentally friendly automation systems, such as:

  • The Automotive industry,
  • Agriculture industry,
  • Aerospace industry,
  • and food and beverage industry

Even the beer industry is concerned with decreasing energy usage in manufacturing. In 2016, a North American brewer contacted JMP Automation, an industry leader in providing Smart Robotic Solutions, for assistance with a strategy to reduce its energy consumption. JMP was able to assist the brewer in reducing the energy costs associated with ammonia compression.

Within the automation industry, there are specific products that manufacturers have designed to be more energy efficient. Within manufacturing, electric motors drain the greatest amount of power. However, certain electric motors have higher performance and reliability ratings, which can lead to decreased energy consumption. Manufacturers use these motors in factories to act as generators and provide mechanical or hydraulics capabilities.

In addition to the motor’s high performance and reliability, the motors can:

  • provide precision for acceleration and deceleration control, which reduces energy lost as heat
  • sense current flows and make adjustments leading to 30% to 40% savings in power usage

These GE Fanuc products are a good example of a type of motor that can be purchased and installed in order to significantly lower environmental impacts. In addition to saving energy, manufacturers who use more environmentally-friendly factories can then also focus on sustainability as part of an environmental strategy; to ensure enduring success with their customer base, companies know that they must keep their customers happy. Preserving the environment is something that is important to many consumers. As such, companies are trying to employ goods in a way that protect the environment.