The 21st century brought about many technological advances to factory automation, from basics like internet connectivity all the way to remote data collection and production control. Since the beginning of automation, with robots performing never-changing repetitive and dangerous tasks, automation technology has been changing, new tasks being automated, new technologies being added, and more information being collected – to be used to inform the next generation of automation.

“These internet-enabled, intelligent devices and the explosion of data they produce could transform manufacturing operations and the factory as we know it today. “In the future, production components will directly communicate with the manufacturing execution system and send out instructions to downstream processes,” says Mirko Bäcker, marketing director EMEA, Tecnomatix, Siemens PLM Software. “The system will then be able to respond more quickly and make adjustments based on the data it has received. In this way, it will become more intelligent, networked and connected. We believe that cyber physical systems will serve as an innovation engine for the future of manufacturing.”

The new software, HMIs, and wirelessly-enabled machines are all geared toward making an automated factory that is smarter and more agile, one that requires little or no human presence.

This includes less down time for machines as manufacturers will be able to remotely diagnose the problems. “When companies use smart, connected machines, they can manufacture with far greater detail and intelligence, and then use the information to be more productive,” says Comstock. “For example, it will be possible to easily schedule thousands of machines across multiple locations remotely, from a central hub. Under this type of scenario, machines could self-diagnose and order spare parts autonomously within a fully connected system.

The ultimate automated system, it can be expected, would be one that can analyze the production data it collects by itself in order to make adjustments to the process or even request preventative maintenance to ensure that production continues without major or unexpected interruptions. This future may still be a way off, but it is surely on its way and it will ensure a prosperous future for the manufacturing industry.

Read more about factory automation’s technology here.