In the past few years you’ve probably heard the media reporting that in the next decade or so the machines will eventually replace all human jobs, starting with manual labor and transportation jobs first. Have you ever wondered how far along we actually are in the process and if so, is there any truth to those claims? What are the real reasons for automation and are linear guides combined with mini rail guides technologies really the crucial components of the systems that will eventually replace factory workers?
Workers or robots?
There is no denying that the long-term trend in manufacturing is headed towards the use of automated machines in order to eventually substitute the manual labor force. It sounds very harsh, but in reality, there are a lot of good valid reasons behind it. Increase of labor productivity with linear motion technologies, reducing labor cost, mitigating effects of labor shortages, improving product quality with the help of linear guide technologies, just to name a few.
Industrial automation systems are and will be preferred for their ability to process hundreds if not thousands of materials or work pieces with the help of mini rails, accordingly to defined standards to achieve the maximum quality and output of a specific product. The automation itself is making the products more stable even if the working environments like climate, disturbances and material properties may differ in a given range.
A deeper dive into automation
Like we previously mentioned, one of the most crucial areas of automation technology is manufacturing. There are three main types of automation when we are talking about industrial production: fixed automation, programmable automation and flexible automation.
Fixed automation refers to an automated production facility in which the processing operations are set in the equipment configuration itself. The programmed commands are inputted in the machines with the help of linear motion sensors, gears, wiring and other hardware, which can’t easily be changed from one product to another. This form of automation is suitable for products that are made in large volumes. Examples of fixed automation include machine transfer lines including mini rails, that can be found in the automotive industries, automatic assembly machines, and in certain chemical processes.
Programmable automation is a form of automation for producing products in large batches. The product quantities are ranging from several dozen to several thousand units at the same time. For each new product, the production equipment such as linear guides must be reprogrammed and changed to accommodate the new products specifications. The reprogramming also takes additional time, which means there is a period of nonproductive time followed after every new batch. Production rates in programmable automation are usually lower than in fixed automation, because the linear motion equipment is designed to produce various products, rather than focusing on product specialization. A numerical control machine tool and industrial robots are two good examples of programmable automation.
Flexible automation is in other words just an extension of programmable automation. Like we previously mentioned a big disadvantage of programmable automation is the time required to reprogram and change the production line and the equipment itself, such as linear guides for each new product. So in flexible automation the variety of products is sufficiently limited so that the changeover of the equipment like mini rails, can be done very quickly and efficiently. There is also no need to sort identical products into batches, as the products themselves can be produced one after another.
Automation pros and cons
If we dive into the facts and the technology itself, the future of the human working force is not as dark, as the media portray it to be sometimes. As mentioned above a few of the advantages attributed to automation include not only higher production rates and increased productivity, but also a more efficient use of materials with the help of linear motion technologies, better product quality, improved safety and shorter work schedules for the workers. The increase in process control is also very positive for the environment as it results in less scraping of the materials. But the biggest positive factor of the industry moving towards automation is actually the reduced time that is required to process a typical production order through the factory production lines.
If we shift the focus on the disadvantages of industrial automation, most of the people not working in the industry itself would probably put worker displacement way above anything else, as the main concern of the future. But what the actual data is showing is the initial capital investment to set up automated systems like linear guides and joining it with the mini rails systems is actually one of the biggest hurdles the industrial plants are facing, if we exclude the planning of the automated infrastructures itself. So in conclusion the theory of a total automation is still way too expensive to achieve for most mid-sized and smaller companies, so this proves that the myth of machines taking most of our jobs is totally overblown by the media.
Smart planning is the key
But in order to avoid additional cost and complications when it comes to planning and setting up some of the automation processes, companies like Tuli can step in and offer their expertise even before the planning process begins. Tuli engineers have been advising and helping industrial companies and plants of all sizes and varieties for over 28 years now. They focus on supplying linear motion and other on demand solutions as well as providing spare parts for a wide range of automation industries.
With the help of companies like Tuli, which focuses on problem solving in these types of industries, the future of automation is looking bright. Most companies strive to provide a growing social and economic environment in which workers can enjoy a higher standard of living and a better way of life.
We can safely conclude that we will adapt to any new technologies and changes like we always do and human touch and intelligence will still be needed for years to come. So let’s not fear the future, instead let’s embrace it with open arms to make our lifes a little bit better with every upgrade.