In manufacturing, the main focus is on continuously improving efficiencies to speed production up and remain competitive. The rapidity of technological advancements goes hand-in-hand with these goals. New products and software are created regularly, which can be leveraged to meet unprecedented production goals.
At Oxford, we have witnessed the evolving needs of our clients and the skill sets required of our consultants. Based on this, we have compiled a list of the top trends in controls engineering.
Controls and Automation
Automated systems and controls have become cemented in everyday life. These systems utilize data provided by sensors to adjust and improve outcomes and efficiencies. Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC) such as Allen-Bradley, Siemens, Mitsubishi, Modicon, and GE are a critical component of these systems, and the flexibility they provide allows for minute adjustments to be made to processes at the drop of a hat.
According to an article from Motion Control Online, “analysts project that the global conveyor market will reach $12.3 billion by 2022, which is up from $8.2 billion in 2016.” Conveyor systems have come a long way from their bulky, chain-operated ancestors. From quiet, energy-efficient rollers to new space-saving innovations, conveyor systems continue to advance with technology. An efficient, precise conveyor system is the foundation upon which the remaining processes and systems in a production line rely. Conveyor systems are seeing greater flexibility and modular options as manufacturers demand products that can grow with their business. While these developments may seem trivial, each tiny adjustment leads to greater production and more efficient processes, and as a result, greater outcomes.
As conveyor systems advance, so, too must sortation systems. Many factors driving the advancements in conveyor systems are also informing sortation systems. As a result, the emphasis on energy savings and sustainability is carried over. Flexible speed in sortation systems is an in-demand feature, as is it not always necessary to run them at full speed all day. Therefore, the ability to adjust the speed results in higher energy savings and fewer maintenance issues.
As the brain of the system, motion control is key to a smooth production process. So, it logically follows that conversations around “smart factories” are becoming more widespread. While a full smart factory is not yet a reality, there have been advancements like the emergence of new servo-control components. “’Because of the power of the digital signal processor (DSP) we are using, we are able now to create motion systems that do not need a centralized controller,’ said Tom Jensen, general manager at AMK Automation. ‘This makes the machines we are on actual “machine modules” and makes things like robotic cells, conveyor integration possible in a small cabinet — or likely cabinet free,’ Jensen said.”
An important skill to focus on is merge logic — specific code in sortation systems that allows easy merging of two conveyors into one, also known as a shoe sorter. The advancements in technology have permitted shoe sorters to be used for a greater variety of products, and operate at higher speeds to increase production.
As the demands on manufacturers continue to rise with the increase in online shopping, technology is there to lighten the load. In the coming years, it will be exciting to see how the industry continues to evolve.