Article
I've been around long enough to watch the transition from procedures 
that were completely done by hand to some pretty awesome automated 
processes. Many tasks that were manually accomplished were repetitive. 
And that meant that workers were subject to injuries caused by RMDs, 
also called repetitive motion disorders.

Optimizing Factory Performance with Automation Controls

Steve Maurer, IME
I've been around long enough to watch the transition from procedures that were completely done by hand to some pretty awesome automated processes. Many tasks that were manually accomplished were repetitive. And that meant that workers were subject to injuries caused by RMDs, also called repetitive motion disorders.

As processes got more complex, these disorders became more frequent and more severe. Add to that the need for increased precision, machines were developed to handle some of the load.

While there was still some human interaction needed, the technologies were developed to automate many of the controls that operated the machine.

Sensors of various types and configurations gauged machine movement, component location and even product placement.

Of course, you knew that already.

Back then, automation was rather simplistic by current standards. But today's automation controls go far beyond their predecessors. In fact, automation tech now reacts on an almost human level. Through industrial internet control systems, smart machines and controls can:

  • input issues relayed from external data sensors,
  • collect that data and send it to cloud applications for analysis
  • evaluate and compute the needed machine actions to continue or correct the problems, and then
  • Act on that analysis through the use of outputs connected to actuators.
Traditional control systems skipped a step: send to the cloud. But IIoT and control has advanced the interaction to provide more precise feedback to the controllers, ensuring that the actions performed optimize the controlled process.

Taking it one step further, one smart machine's automation controls can communicate with the controls of other equipment. Should one machine be suddenly disabled, the others in the "farm" could take up the slack by increasing output.

Additionally, unplanned downtime can be virtually eliminated by smart automation controls. Sensing machine condition, operation, and total runtime, the automation controls would relay this information to the factory management team. Planned downtime for routine maintenance means that disruptive emergency repairs can, for the most part, be avoided.

Much like GPS technology, smart automation controls warn of impending maintenance "thunderstorms" and allow companies to make good use of "sunny weather."

Hardware, software, and data couples with human interaction to optimize factory throughput and quality control.

We humans can make better decisions because of the increased visibility into operations and more complete data. And as the technology grows, a broader network of supporting plants, suppliers, and logistics help achieve the dream of supply chain optimization.
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