Industrial Automation and Robotics

Robotics is one of the most exciting fields that has potential applications in today’s world. Everything from parking a car to industrial automation to a rocket can be automated using robots and other software. The introduction of robotics as a dedicated field changed our vision of the world to a much more technologically advanced one.

Robotics is a very diverse field with numerous applications. Appliances such as self-opening doors and packaging lines use robotics to improve the way they operate. Robots are being used in several fields, from manufacturing to medical sciences. One of the most interesting applications of robotics is industrial automation.

Factory Automation Robotics
Factory using robotics on an assembly line

What are Robots?

Before diving too deep into what industrial automation is, let us first see what robots are. We see many people using the word “robots” very freely. In fact, many people think that washing machines and toaster ovens are a type of robot. However, this isn’t true if we’re following the technical definition of a robot.

In simple terms, a robot is a device that can act on itself by using an array of sensors. Robots can figure out what task to do or what function to run based on some pre-programmed variables. For instance, you can program a packing robot to measure the weight of the package and apply tape accordingly.

Even though programming is an integral part of robotics, it is not necessary to program everything the robot has to do before manufacturing it. Robots can sometimes be equipped with artificial intelligence if the task requires a series of complex operations. For instance, medical droids or social droids need AI to understand the needs of the person they’re communicating or inspecting.

How are Robots Made?

It may sound silly, but some advanced robots in the manufacturing industry are capable of building other robots. This doesn’t mean Skynet is going to attack us (not yet, at least). The robots are primarily designed by engineers using technology like computer modeling. Manufacturing them can be achieved using other robots or even a moving assembly line.

When making a robot, an engineer must consider several variables like the load-bearing capacity, machinability of the materials used, etc. Once the design is complete, engineers can use several types of machines to complete the manufacturing. Usually, most engineers prefer CNC machines for their precision and ease of usage.

A robot primarily has three parts: a controller, a sensor, and a frame, along with several other parts such as motors, drives, and nuts.

The frame holds all the parts of a robot inside it. It is essentially the body of a robot that you, as an observer, can see. Inside this frame, there’ll be a controller to guide the functions of the robot. The sensors in the bot determine when to execute a function. For instance, if there’s a camera bot that’s designed to take pictures of visitors, it may have a photosensor to identify the perfect light conditions.

When the light is perfect, the bot may capture the photo using the controller.

How Robots Work

The primary working mechanism of a robot heavily depends on the application. However, there is a similar structure for all the robots. Every process done by a robot begins at the sensors. The sensors act as triggers for the robot.

It’s just like the sliding doors we see at shopping malls and airports. However, those doors use proximity sensors, while a robot may have multiple arrays of sensors.

When the sensors are first triggered, they send a signal to the controller. The controller is connected to the code base either directly or indirectly. This codebase now sends a signal back to the controller telling it what to do exactly. The controller then manages the other parts of the robot, such as the arms or the legs, depending on the result the codebase delivered.

The whole process is done within seconds, making robots extremely efficient for use in the manufacturing and automation sector.

Applications of robots

Thanks to its high efficiency, robotics found potential applications in almost every major field, from agriculture to remote manufacturing. Here is a list of some major applications for robots.

1. Medicine

Medicine is one of the most useful fields right now. Recently, we’ve seen China use medical robots to care for those affected by the Covid virus in Wuhan. If robots were not present, the situation could’ve been a lot worse.

Engineers are also trying to build robots to perform surgeries or assist doctors in doing so. Even though surgical robots are seeing some success, we have yet to see the implications of this success.

2. Self-driving Cars

Self-driving cars have always been somewhat of a dream to humanity, along with flying cars and Narnia Closets. First introduced in the early sci-fi movies, we are closer than ever to releasing a self-driving car into the market, thanks to the advancements in the field of robotics.

If everything goes as planned, we may see a self-driving car at the end of every street by the end of this decade.

3. Social Robots

Social robots like Sophia are capable of communicating like humans. Even though the field remains a bit unexplored, the bar is being set higher and higher, with numerous companies trying to develop their own social bot.

The potential applications of a social bot could include negotiations, social engineering, etc.

4. Management Robots

Management Robots are the ones designed specifically to manage a project or an operation. In a sense, they’re similar to the tactical droids in star wars, but they look less cool and can’t analyze war strategies.

Management robots are still new, and there are less than a handful of them operating efficiently as of today. However, we may see increased usage of such robots in the coming decades.

5. Manufacturing

Industrial manufacturing is one of the fields that robots managed to take over pretty easily. Since their physical efficiency is as high as the design permits, robots are the best things to control the manufacturing process. We can also use robots to perform any repairs to other manufacturing machines.

As we see, more and more industries are installing robots in the factories to reduce the operational costs and reduce the work for the employees.

Industrial automation explores such concepts in depth.

Now, let us focus on the role of robots in industrial automation.

Industrial Automation

Industrial automation is a process through which we use different automated systems such as CNC machines and robots to replace the human workforce. Industrial automation is proven to save a ton of time and money while reducing the workload on humans, too. Automation is also more productive as machines don’t get tired and can operate with the same efficiency all the time.

There are several advantages to industrial automation. For starters, industrial automation vastly improves the safety of the workplace. If there is one place where you need to be careful, it is a manufacturing plant. By replacing some of the more dangerous jobs with robots, we can prevent unnecessary accidents and save people’s lives.

Automation also comes with a lot of flexibility. For instance, machines can be programmed to do certain things, and their work flexibility is as wide as their programming allows it to be. However, it may take days or even weeks for a human worker to learn other things and work as flexibly as a robot.

One of the primary reasons many top-tier companies are preferring industrial automation is because of quality and consistency. It is easy for a human to make a mistake. One could easily miss a measurement because of a parallax error or other manual errors. However, if we use a machine, the probability of error is pretty low. If everything is done right, the error margin should be negligibly small, making all the products the best quality there can be.

Automation using robots also ensures the consistency of the products. For instance, let us say that we automated a snack products factory. After automation, we can ensure that each packet has the exact same number of chips. Even though this example may not seem that important, the same concept applies to cars and airplanes. All the parts need to be consistent with the design. We can achieve this much more easily using industrial automation than using the human workforce.

Moreover, industrial automation ensures that the productivity of the manufacturing plant is as high as it can be. Machines don’t need breaks and can work 24 hours a day and seven days a week, making them the ultimate workforce when there’s an urgent demand for a product. Even though humans are still required to operate the plant with the machines working, they’ll do all the heavy lifting for us (both literally and figuratively).

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