Industrial Automation Solutions

Industrial automation encompasses various systems like robots, computers, and other related technological advancements that control tasks that humans have traditionally performed in manufacturing and processing environments. Taking technology a step further, automation allows businesses in diverse industries to boost productivity and throughput, streamline operations for enhanced efficiency, create safer working environments, and increase production speed while improving quality control.

At Big Sky Engineering, Inc., we create custom, high-end, reliable, turnkey industrial automation solutions with your ROI in mind. Learn more about the types of automation options that are available for your business, the benefits of incorporating automated systems, and how the team at Big Sky can help.

Types of Industrial Automation Services

There are many different types of industrial automation systems available, meaning that a broad range of industries can benefit from incorporating automation in their manufacturing processes. To select the industrial automation solution that works best for your specific business, consider the following factors:

  • Specifications for assembly and production
  • Application requirements
  • Labor conditions and costs
  • Pressure from competitors

Fixed Automation

Fixed automation systems, commonly referred to as hard automation, perform one set of functions repeatedly without deviating from that process. Automated conveyors are a good example of fixed automation as they have a single job: continuously transferring goods from one point to another. Fixed automation systems in industries like textiles and food packaging are also well-suited to repetitive manufacturing, which actually does enable slight variations in production.

Ideal for continuous flow operations and discrete high-volume manufacturing, fixed automation is advantageous for its ability to increase efficiency, give your operation a competitive edge, and enhance profits while reducing labor expenditures. These systems are typically straightforward to install and can even improve worker safety by handling tasks that might otherwise result in injury for human laborers.

Programmable Automation

In programmable automation systems, computer programs control the automation equipment using computer-generated coding. As you change the programming and introduce new instructions, you have some ability to modify the processes that the automated system can carry out. That said, making such code alterations can be labor-intensive.

Programmable automation is beneficial in operations with a high throughput of like products. This allows systems in factories or assembly plants to generate varying goods but use the same tooling and manufacturing processes. Like fixed automation, programmable automation systems are compatible with repetitive manufacturing processes for products like equipment and automobile production in which the manufacturer produces a high volume of items, all with minimal human intervention.

While your initial investment might be higher in setting up the automated machinery, programmable automation usually proves to be less expensive over time due to its ability to operate continuously with limited changes.

Flexible Automation

Flexible – or soft – automation enables your manufacturing operation to be more versatile and flexible. While such automation is applicable in computer-controlled systems, it’s a human operator working the computer that provides each piece of machinery with its detailed commands. When the computer operator alters the code, this allows the system to perform more diverse tasks. Flexible automation proves effective in small or medium production runs for variable products.

Fixed and programmable automation systems are ideal for repetitive manufacturing. Flexible automation, however, is applicable for a wider variety of manufacturing operations, including:

  • Discrete. Discrete manufacturing enables you to make small changes to your processes, like in food processing or textiles.
  • Job shop. A more arduous process than other manufacturing methods, job shop manufacturing takes place within the confines of a determined production space for making products like customized equipment.
  • Batch-process. This method allows for a brief pause between manufacturing stages so that raw materials can pass through the line in groupings or batches. Paint manufacturing plants and the pharmaceutical sector commonly operate using batch-process manufacturing.
  • Continuous-process. These manufacturing operations can run continuously because the equipment runs one consistent process, from start to finish. The oil and gas or food and beverage industries often utilize this manufacturing method.

Integrated Automation

Computers and related control processes rather than human workers manage the bulk of manufacturing tasks at facilities utilizing integrated automation. Fully automated, the computers handle component design and design testing, part fabrication, and more. Similar to flexible automation, integrated automation is well-suited to continuous-process and batch-process manufacturing methods.

The following applications and tools can benefit from integrated automation:

  • Computer-assisted and -controlled design, process planning, scheduling, and production
  • Computer numerical control (CNC) machinery
  • Automated retrieval and storage systems like AMRs
  • Flexible equipment, robotic, and material handling systems
  • Automation solutions like cranes and conveyor belts

Advantages of Industrial Automation Solutions

In addition to their capabilities for versatile applications, there are several other significant advantages to using industrial automation solutions in your operation.

Higher Productivity for Increased Throughput

Industrial automation services can meet your company’s specific throughput needs by providing the opportunity for continuous operation. Automated equipment doesn’t need breaks or vacations, and you have the option for everything from lights-out manufacturing for 24-hour operations to functioning every day of the year. The resulting increase in productivity gives you a more efficient production line that can reduce product lead times and, in some cases, allow you to eliminate outsourcing and retain in-house production for better quality control.

Quality Improvements

One particularly valuable benefit to industrial automation solutions is that they eliminate the chance of human operator error. Robots and automated work cells don’t experience fatigue and, given their high-precision accuracy, are less prone to mistakes. This translates to repeatable, uniform quality in your products during all phases of manufacturing, even at faster production rates so that you’re not sacrificing quality for quantity. Vision systems and monitoring equipment can reduce error occurrences even further.

Flexible Operations for Greater Scalability

Human operators require extensive training when a company incorporates a new task or product into an assembly line. Robots and automated systems provide greater operational flexibility as you can reprogram them to perform any application. Not only does this make the manufacturing process less rigid overall, but it can also help with scaling your operations based on changes in demand or your product line. To best serve you, Big Sky is a FANUC-preferred integrator, providing world-class robotics at a competitive price.

You can also make modifications to your automated work cell itself. When your new product or process requires you to optimize your equipment, the automated system often experiences minimal or even zero downtime as you can reprogram the cell with a new set of instructions offline. The automated system also requires little operator retraining.

Cost Savings

After your initial investment in an automated control system, you’ll find that robots quickly become less costly than human workers. Automation has few associated expenditures, with those being energy consumption and equipment maintenance, as needed. Robots also generate less material waste due to their reliable precision, which saves on your materials budget as well.

Enhanced Worker Safety

Industrial automation solutions improve employee safety by using robots in the production line to perform repetitive or potentially harmful tasks, freeing up human workers to take on other projects. Employees no longer have to:

  • Work in uncomfortable or dangerous working conditions (such as high-heat environments)
  • Carry out tasks that might cause physical strain through repetitive motion
  • Lift and move heavy objects that might cause worker injury
  • Handle hazardous chemicals

Contact Big Sky Engineering for Industrial Automation Solutions

Big Sky Engineering has specialized in providing comprehensive, high-quality, and affordable industrial automation solutions for a wide variety of industries and applications since 1998. As part of our commitment to excellence, we work closely with you every step of the way, from a project’s ideation phase to final installation and service support. From our 60,000-square-foot facility in Wisconsin, the Big Sky team creates high-performance materials handling, assembly, inspection, and packaging systems in-house to help support innovation and efficiency in your business. We offer complete turnkey solutions, simplifying the project management for our customers wherever possible.

Contact us today to learn more about our industrial automation systems, or request a quote to see how Big Sky Engineering can help meet the demands of your specific application.