Autonomy over Automation

Autonomy over Automation – By Steven Barrett

Manufacturing is one of the fastest changing parts of our society. Developments in products, materials, processes and procedures all have the ability to upset the status quo and usher in a new way of thinking about the same old stuff. Things don’t stop once we improve a process, instead they improve again. Today we’ll look at how automatic machines are now becoming autonomous.

Efficiency is key. Whether it’s less waste, cheaper materials, or faster output there is always room for more efficiency and as a natural order our processes relentlessly move towards it. We’ve seen milestones countless times but this latest one is a doozy. Major computational improvements combined with distinct process knowledge are turning automated equipment into autonomous equipment.

But what’s the difference? Equipment in manufacturing has been becoming automated for decades. The definition of these words are distinct yet close enough to leave some confusion. In terms of manufacturing I define automatic as a motor assisted function that does what a human typically would do manual. What makes autonomy special is that there’s a higher level of control over automatic functions; controlling them independently with a decision making process. In simpler terms, our equipment is getting smarter and beginning to make production decisions on its own.

There are also intelligent management systems that can oversee entire production scenarios. Tools like PXnet from Horizon give production managers a very detailed bird’s-eye-view of an entire facility or even multiple locations. Just having a view of the big picture can allow humans to observe processes under a new light, giving way to a whole new era of breakthroughs.

Specific equipment solutions are incorporating autonomy in new ways as well. Machines like the MBM Aerocut G2 or the Horizon CRF-362 are perfect examples. Both require a very minimal setup and of course the operator is still required to load and unload stock from the machine. However, once the machine begins its production, there are all kinds of things happening in the background that lead to seamless operation with minimal operator interaction. The Aerocut carries out no less than 4 separate operations on each sheet before delivering a finished product. The CRF-362 determines its own speed and gap settings, things that confuse new operators and cause management to worry about quality.

This form of development is exponential, it’s constantly building on itself and each step just leads us to higher goals. It’s a pleasure of mine to watch these things happen in the industry I love working in. It can be a struggle for those who are late to adopt modern equipment, they are left competing on an uneven battlefield. It’s also difficult to know when the time is right and have the gusto to pull the trigger in uncharted territory. It leaves me humble about my customers and their struggles as I try to explain the benefits of buying into automation while they grapple with costs and risks.

Mid-State Litho, Inc.
5459 Fenton Rd.
Flint, MI 48507