Automation is reshaping the world, and the manufacturing industry appears to be at the epicentre of this new industrial revolution. But what exactly is automation? For many people, the first thing that comes to mind is robots. And they are not wrong. In fact, automation is derived from the word automaton, which means self-operating machine.
Automation, in its crudest form, has been around for some time, but the term only gained popularity in 1947 after Ford Motor Company created a machine-operated department to assemble cars. Now, automation generally means any technology that reduces human intervention, from ATMs to garage opener apps to self-driving vehicles and industrial robots (of course). The scale of automation use is immense and still growing. According to Oxford Economics, robots could replace 8.5 percent of the global workforce by 2030.
Like automation, the electronics industry is continuously advancing. But there’s more to it than that. Automated systems play a crucial role in how the electronics industry is evolving, impacting almost every stage of the production cycle. But just how big of a game-changer is automation in electronics? Discover how it contributes to the growth of the electrical and electronics industry.
The use of automation is not new in the electronics industry. In the United States alone, 70 percent of robots work in production factories, and 15 percent is in the electronics sector. For decades, automotive manufacturing in the US tops automation usage at 38 percent. However, the electrical and electronics industry is slowly but steadily catching up and could soon be the dominant player in industrial automation.
According to research, global electronic design automation may grow up to 10% from 2021 to 2026. The ongoing progress of the electronics industry, paired with the steady advancement of industrial automation globally, fuels the growth of the market. As the demand for electronic products, such as cellular phones, increases, so does the need to automate specific aspects of the production cycle. Unlike humans, machines can work 24 hours without breaks and without losing their efficiency or productivity. Several factories have even adopted the lights-out manufacturing environment, where robots do all the work without human intervention.
Then, there are emerging trends, such as the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), and augmented reality (AR). All these technologies use circuits, semiconductors, sensors that have compact but complicated designs. Furthermore, electronics miniaturization needs electronic design automation (EDA) or computer-aided design tools to assemble because of their complexity. Miniaturization and microelectronics are vital in developing healthcare equipment, automotive gadgets, aerospace and defense systems, and telecommunications such as 5G.
With the stiff competition and rising demand for new and better electronics, time is of the essence. Manufacturers should come up with innovative and effective means to keep up with evolving technological landscape. Automation helps the operations and processes run more smoothly and efficiently, specifically in assembly lines, packaging, semiconductor manufacturing, soldering, component handling, inspecting, physical testing. Machines can minimise manual intervention to complete mundane and repetitive tasks. More importantly, it can increase productivity while reducing errors and lowering operational costs. When implemented well, automation results in higher profitability as it enables the company to provide customers with high-value services or products.
Let us further break down the benefits of using automation in the electrical and electronics industry.
Precision with Small Parts
Perhaps the most crucial requirement in electronics manufacturing is the precise placement of small parts. However, with the advancement of technology, the size of components and circuits keeps on getting smaller and smaller. Many devices have high component density, multiple layers, small pitches, delicate parts that require extra care. Some tasks, particularly electronic assembly, are just not suitable for humans. Manually performing this task will not only slow down the assembly process. It will also delay the testing of products. And even with meticulous thoroughness, there is still a likelihood of human error. It could lead to waste or defects in the output.
Robots use sensors, high-resolution cameras, and other technologies to pick and place tiny, delicate parts precisely and accurately with zero errors. The sophisticated vision systems give them the ability to see clearly and verify the features of the components. Their proximity sensors are programmed to apply the necessary pressure when picking and fitting the parts on the printed circuit boards (PCBs), preventing damage to fragile devices.
Automation improves and accelerates the building of fragile components such as connectors, display screens, and subassemblies. It also supports miniaturization as automated robots can handle minuscule pieces and place them exactly where humans cannot.
In a nutshell, automating electronic production increases efficiency and productivity while reducing the risk for errors and wastage.
Consistency in Packaging and Finishing
Using automation in packaging has many benefits. It speeds up the process, improves consistency, and promotes better space utilization. During packaging, damages and breakages are likely to happen due to mishandling by humans. Automated packaging systems prevent these errors and ensure that not a single component of the electronics is left out. Furthermore, it helps catch defective items at nearly 100 percent accuracy without losing efficiency despite working nonstop.
Automation enhances product traceability, enabling manufacturers to oversee the production cycle from start to finish. Proper traceability ensures that companies are compliant with regulations. It also makes the handling of product recalls quicker and more efficient. It guarantees business continuity in times of crises, disasters, or public-health shutdowns, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Lastly, it keeps employees safe from worker fatigue, workplace injuries, musculoskeletal disorders from repetitive motions, and harmful materials, including solvents and adhesives.
Job Creation in Automation, Controls, Robotics and Software Engineering
While automation can replace the human workforce in a wide range of tasks, it can also usher in new careers in the industry. Robots are performing duties that are repetitive, hazardous to humans, or require impossibly fine detail. By delegating these responsibilities to automation, manufacturers can assign their workers to manage more critical processes that need creativity, ingenuity, decision-making, and problem-solving skills.
The World Economic Forum predicted that automation would create about 58 million jobs, about 67 percent of this will be become higher-skilled while the remaining 33 percent is lower-skilled. There will be new job opportunities in the fields of automation and controls engineering, process management, electronic engineering and embedded software systems. Job vacancies are expected to grow in demand include data analysts and scientists, AI machine specialists, digital marketing specialists, process automation specialists, information security analysts, and software applications developers.
This article was supplied by Growth Recruits who provide marketing for recruitment companies