Controls and automation are two topics in the ingredient-handling world that are closely related, but AZO believes that both carry out specific functions individually. These separate (yet synergistic) functions ensure manufacturers are taking care of business as precisely as possible. In turn, valuable resources (and time) can be redirected toward other areas any manufacturer would be happy to utilize efficiently.
To quickly break down the difference: automation pertains to machines fulfilling programmable duties, and these duties are put into place by electronic controls. Chain reactions between the mechanical and electronic sides of an automated process complete multiple tasks that otherwise would be handled by humans. As a result, human error is then eliminated from these operations.
While determining the return on investment (ROI) will give you an idea of what these systems will offer in monetary value to your plant specifically, we believe understanding how and why a sturdy manufacturing controls system brings about those savings is important.
Below we’ll review how reliability, consistency and sustainability are promoted by the combination of automated machines and advanced manufacturing control systems working in tandem. We’ll also briefly shed some light on how future advancements of this relationship could very well help manufacturers prepare for their own uncertain futures (a topic we’ve covered at length in a free offering here).
Reliability and consistency is increased by controls and automation
Implementing significant levels of controls and automation introduces a greater level of precision for getting each micro ingredient in every formula every time. While some use buckets and scoops as a means to weigh out these ingredients, these methods pale in comparison to the exact weighments of automated systems (Our controls partner BCI has published content related to this specific idea).
For instance, picture a worker tasked with putting 25 bags of material into a mixer: someone asks that worker a question (or otherwise distracts them). Suddenly, that worker has lost count. They are unsure whether 19 bags, 20 bags or 21 bags have been placed into the mixer so far. In the end, the process may be a bag shorter or a bag over the original goal. As a system is automated, the reliability and consistency of the product is much higher than in this example of a manual operation.
Sustainability is ensured by more modern controls systems
Another pertinent benefit introduced by controls and automation is plant sustainability. Having an entire system run well for an indefinite period of time becomes the goal that plant managers aspire to attain. Spare parts of dated technology become harder and harder to replace. Taking the time to locate and ship such technology can halt production at completely inopportune times.
While it can be overwhelming to “rip apart” entire systems in the name of sustainability, having a long-term vision plan for how to replace each part (within budget) over a period of time can offer a plethora of benefits to a facility and its workers. The end-product will be much more consistent and ready to be swapped out at will. Operators are easier to train and peace of mind can be ensured knowing that systems are not dependent on older pieces of technology that could fail at any moment.
Speaking of the unexpected, automated systems can take special care of minor and micro additives. They can accomplish this task especially in areas that have experienced multiple workplace injuries. This, in turn, takes certain exposure-related tasks out of operators’ hands while ensuring the quality and consistency of products (day in and day out).
Advanced manufacturing control systems ensure a company is more prepared for the uncertain future
With remote diagnostics and other new technologies being introduced with modern control systems, operators are able to quickly address problems (minimizing downtime or bad product). Predictive maintenance specifically notifies operators of when a product is reaching the end of its life cycle. Then, (overnight and in-between production shifts) material can be replaced or problems can be addressed. Money is saved as facilities avoid unplanned downtime. Hazards related to equipment can be avoided and reduced because of this as well.
With a better understanding of when parts might fail, manufacturers can be proactive about restocking these parts as well as supplies. Integrating an MES (manufacturing execution system) with predictive maintenance can reduce a manufacturer’s time to market with new products and allow operators to adjust the flow of existing processes to meet industry demand.
You decide the pace at which you upgrade your controls and automation systems
While all of the above examples reflect some pertinent benefits that automation and advanced manufacturing control systems offer, we realize that it can be daunting to invest in an entirely new setup. The good news is that a vast array of strategies relating to upgrading a system can be implemented over a long period of time.
Many manufacturers may think that automation equates to automating their entire processes, but you can start small (automating what makes sense in the immediate future to automate), then expand as you determine is necessary. Automation can at first be used to solve particular and specific issues at hand (relating to that long-term vision plan for how to replace parts over a period of time). Having an idea about what you want to automate is key, but professionals (such as BCI) can help assess the greatest areas of opportunity for this automation as well.
BCI, our control system partners, have over 25 years of experience designing, building and installing integrated control systems in AZO automated material conveying systems. To learn more about how you can expect the highest level of quality and reliability for ingredient automation solutions from AZO and BCI, contact our dedicated sales associates today. Read more of our blog to find information on pneumatic conveying, ingredient automation and the reliably accurate equipment that AZO manufactures.