There are probably many people in charge of companies who are considering introducing “FA (factory automation)” but do not know the outline of it. In this article, we will explain the overview of FA and the advantages and disadvantages of introducing it to such people.
Table of contents
- What is FA (Factory Automation)?
- Advantages and disadvantages of FA (factory automation)
- Solutions to keep in mind for the realization of FA
What is FA (Factory Automation)?
“FA (factory automation)” refers to automating the production process in a factory by utilizing sensors and robots that use computer control technology.
Although sensors have been introduced in the production process in the past, they have been positioned as a supplementary role for workers due to problems with accuracy and control. However, with the improvement of computer control technology, we can expect the automation of defective product inspection and robot control positioning, which were conventionally performed by humans, by making it possible to determine with sensors and control based on that. became.
Due to these technological advances, the introduction of FA is progressing at various manufacturing sites. In addition, to automate the production process and expect improvements in productivity and operational efficiency, it is important to introduce automation not only in a part but also in all processes from order receipt to shipment. In recent years, there has been a growing trend toward integrated systems using FA-LAN as well as the introduction of single industrial robots that play a part in the production process.
History of FA (Factory Automation)
Some people may think that FA is a new technology, but it is not. FA has a long history, dating back to the 1950s. At that time, mass production using rolling mills and welding equipment was in progress in the steel and shipbuilding industries. In the latter half of the 1960s, industrial robots incorporating integrated circuits into machine tools were put into practical use, and companies in the United States began carrying materials, painting, and assembling work using robot arms.
In the latter half of the 1970s, numerically controlled NC machine tools were born and used by companies around the world. In the latter half of the 1990s, with the introduction of the Internet, CAD, CAM, and PLM, which are manufacturing support systems, became widespread, and automation linked with design became possible.
In this way, it can be said that FA has continued to evolve along with technological innovations in the electronics field since the 1950s. In addition, it is said that cutting-edge technologies such as AI and IoT will support the shift to factory automation, such as making it possible to formulate operation plans according to operating conditions through further improvements in internet technology.
Advantages and disadvantages of FA (factory automation)
From here, I will explain the advantages and disadvantages of FA.
Advantages of FA (Factory Automation)
The main benefits include reduced labor costs, increased productivity, and stable quality. Regarding the reduction of personnel expenses, it is possible to reduce the number of employees by promoting automation, so the cost of human resources such as salaries and overtime pay can be suppressed. Reducing the number of employees will also reduce recruitment and training costs. The manufacturing industry, which is suffering from a labor shortage, will no longer need to secure a large number of workers.
In terms of improving productivity, the introduction of robots makes it possible to operate 24 hours a day, which greatly improves daily production compared to the case of human workers. There is no need to worry about work efficiency declining due to fatigue. In addition, the use of robots will contribute to the stabilization of quality, as a system will be put in place to ensure that production continues with a constant level of quality.
When people do the work, the results may vary depending on the worker, and it may take time to produce high-quality products. With robots, there is no need for training, and it is possible to create high-quality products from the beginning.
In addition, it should be noted that dangerous work can be entrusted. Some factory operations are dangerous and can lead to injuries and burns. There is a risk of injury due to human work, but with the introduction of machines, there will be no need for people to handle such dangerous work, and employees will be able to proceed with work with peace of mind.
Disadvantages of FA (Factory Automation)
A disadvantage of FA is the high cost. By introducing FA, first of all, the introduction cost will be incurred. Depending on the type and number of machines to be introduced, it can cost several million yen or more. In addition to machines, it is also necessary to secure human resources with specialized knowledge and skills who can operate and manage the machines. In addition to training and hiring in-house, there is also a method of outsourcing, but either way, it will cost money.
In terms of cost, not only the installation cost but also the maintenance cost is required. In addition to maintenance costs, there will also be costs for electricity required for operation. No compromises can be made here, as regular inspections and maintenance are important to keep driving safely.
In addition, it is important to note that there is a risk in the event of failure. A machine can produce the same quality product at a constant speed, but it can also malfunction or break down. Any malfunction or failure will stop all work associated with production, and there is a risk of zero productivity.
It is difficult for amateurs to fix machine failures, and there is a risk of secondary accidents due to incorrect handling, so it is necessary to ask a repair company. However, if you ask a contractor, you may not be able to resume production until the repair is completed, so it is important to consider such risks before proceeding with the introduction.
Solutions to keep in mind for the realization of FA
Finally, we will introduce the solutions that you should keep in mind to realize FA.
Utilization of IoT devices and AI
Before constructing FA, it is important to “visualize” using IoT devices and AI to understand the state of the factory before construction. Even if you introduce a machine for the sake of automation, you may end up in a situation where the effect of the introduction is not well understood. To prevent such a situation, it is important to proceed with the situation analysis of your company in advance.
In addition, it is necessary to consider the question of where to proceed with automation among all processes. First of all, it is necessary to use IoT devices and AI to collect all kinds of data such as factory operation status and production results. After that, if you analyze and verify the automation effect based on the collected data, you will be able to grasp the cost-effectiveness in advance and proceed with an effective introduction.
A “collaborative robot” is an industrial robot that works in cooperation with humans. In the past, industrial robots introduced in factories required the installation of a safety fence before being used, but this collaborative robot does not require the installation of a safety fence. By eliminating the need to install a safety fence, it is possible to work in the same space as people, in addition to being able to install it anywhere.
In addition, by introducing collaborative robots, we can aim to improve productivity by enabling both humans and robots to perform their tasks in the assembly of products and parts. Furthermore, by entrusting the inspection work to collaborative robots, it is expected that the inspection speed will be improved.
AGV (automated guided vehicle)
“AGV” is an abbreviation of “Automated Guided Vehicle” and means an unmanned guided vehicle that transports products instead of people. The AGV does not require the installation work of the travel route such as rails and magnetic tapes, and the feature is that the travel section is mapped by scanning or CAD.
Since it can run without installing tracks, it is possible to easily change the running route even if the layout is changed, and it can be introduced even in factories where there is no place to install tracks.
In addition, with the automation of transportation, the personnel of the delivery department can be transferred to other departments, which will lead to the elimination of labor shortages. In addition, AGVs can be used to move stocked shelves, reducing the time and effort required for staff to move to the desired shelf, which can be expected to improve work efficiency and productivity.
By introducing FA, you can enjoy various benefits such as improved productivity, operational efficiency, and stable quality. When introducing FA, it is important to first understand the current situation of your factory and consider which parts should be automated. After that, it would be a good idea to proceed with the implementation of a solution like the one introduced here.