Discrete Automation Technology and Supplier Selection

A variety of automation technologies are used by manufacturers for the control of discrete manufacturing processes ranging from detail fabrication, subassembly, to final assembly of finished goods and products. Automation technologies for the discrete manufacturing industries include programmable logic controllers (PLC), AC drives, general motion control (GMC), computer numeric control (CNC), and machine safeguarding; plus, human-machine interface (HMI), and manufacturing execution systems (MES) for discrete industries.    

Discrete automation offers the potential to deliver significant unrealized return on assets (ROA) throughout the manufacturing process. However, many users purchase automation technology and systems to stay technologically current and reduce total cost of ownership (TCO) relative to minimized risk, rather than to achieve continuous improvement and associated economic and business gains.

Discrete Manufacturing Industries Require Modern Discrete Automation

Of course, advances in underlying technologies as well as international standards play a part in making sure the correct solutions are selected for the future as well as the current business needs.  For example, Industrial IoT (IIoT) and Industrie 4.0 provide new opportunities to improve overall business performance.  For owner-operators, this includes operational improvements mostly through improved asset reliability in the discrete manufacturing industries.  For end users, the incorporation of IIoT, analytics, and other predictive and prescriptive technologies help to bring performance to a higher level.  

ARC Advisory Group’s suite of  Technology and Supplier Selection Guides are invaluable tools for manufacturing automation solution end users trying to navigate the ever changing market dynamics resulting from the trend towards the digital transformation of the manufacturing industries, global pandemics, trade wars, currency exchange rate fluctuations, and dynamic economic swings.  ARC’s broad range of related selection guides are used by some of the largest discrete manufacturers to ensure they choose a solution partner best suited for their regional, vertical, and application focus. 

For detailed information, please click on the selection guide titles below.  For more information or to purchase a selection guide, please contact us.

Human-Machine Interface Software

Human-machine interface (HMI) software and services are widely used across industries.  HMI software may also be referred to as HMI/SCADA, due to the flexible application of the software.  As the name implies, the primary objective is to provide humans with visibility into the production operations and to allow necessary adjustments to be made.  HMI software is segmented primarily into three types: HMI/client, software modules, and supervisory/server software.  HMI/client is used with a variety of control products, such as distributed control systems (DCSs), programmable logic controllers (PLCs), programmable automation controllers (PACs), or PC-based data acquisition systems.  In addition to performing visualization functions, many of these HMI/client software packages are also used for performing monitoring functions, such as alarming, as well as for data storage and printing management reports. 

With the growing trend toward digitization and Internet of Things (IoT), it is extremely important that the HMI software selected supports the connectivity provided by these emerging technologies.

More information on the HMI/SCADA Software selection guide.

Manufacturing Execution Systems

Succeeding in today’s competitive global climate requires innovation and operational excellence along several dimensions.  Modern Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) incorporate new technologies, such as mobile smart devices and new intuitive applications that enable users to respond to changing market conditions and reduce costs. MES solutions help improve visibility, make sense of big data, accommodate the new generation of tech-savvy millennial workers, and reduce costs.  MES solutions include production management, operations intelligence, workforce enforcement, batch management, material tracking, quality management, short term planning and scheduling and more.

MES solutions provide discrete manufacturers with the means to plan and schedule, track and analyze, and direct and operate their operations.  MES software improves visibility, compliance, track and trace, and the bottom line.

More information on the Manufacturing Execution Systems for the Discrete Industries selection guide.

Programmable Logic Controllers

Programmable logic controllers (PLCs) are industrial controllers used in nearly every industry.  Most new products today are programable automation controllers (PAC), which enhance PLC functionality with other disciplines integrated on a common platform.  PLCs are traditionally used in discrete manufacturing applications, but in recent years they have been used increasingly in process industries such as water & wastewater, mining, and power generations.  For these industries, PLCs enable more scalable plants and have lower lifecycle costs.

In the age of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), the PLC is becoming part of the “automation edge” as machine builders and end users add intelligent edge devices close to the machine. This evolution will gradually change the way PLCs are designed and deployed in the future.

More information on the Programmable Logic Controllers selection guide.

General Motion Control

General Motion Control (GMC) systems include three generally accepted functional elements: controller, drive, and servo and stepper motors.  Industries that utilize GMC systems include semiconductors, food & beverage, and automotive as well as plastics & rubber, machinery manufacturing, and electronics & electrical.  Pharmaceutical & biotech, aerospace & defense, medical products also make use of GMC systems in their manufacturing processes.

The trend in digitalization has taking off strongly in the last several years.  Modern automation components like GMC are required to support digitalization trends.  This requires integrated connectivity, memory, and processing capabilities for easy interface and data transfer between a chain of automation components such as human-machine interface (HMI), programmable logic controller (PLC), motion control equipment, sensors, as well as with MES and edge-computing devices.  Digitalization enables asset owners and service organizations to make rapid, informed decisions.

More information on the General Motion Control selection guide.

AC Drives

AC drives are applied in manufacturing industries, and provide speed, motion, and torque control for equipment, such as fans, pumps, compressors, conveyors, kilns, centrifuges, mixers, hoists, cranes, extruders, printing machinery, and textile machines.  In recent years, products like AC drives have become much more powerful in terms of the information they are now able to utilize and share to perform their duties more effectively.

Current pandemic has put industrial markets in chaos in recent months and has created new challenges for AC drives suppliers and end users.  However, the need for new infrastructure, safe food and water supply, increasing population, and energy-efficient and climate-friendly solutions continues to create demand for AC drives in a wide range of industries. Governmental and public decision-makers are also increasingly working to direct the industry toward using more energy-efficient operating methods.  ARC research shows that AC drives not only play a major role toward gaining a high degree of energy efficiency, but also supports to meet challenges of “digital future”.

More information on the AC Drives selection guide.

Low Voltage Motor Control Centers

Low voltage motor control centers (LV MCC) are an assembly of one or more enclosed sections having a common power bus and principally containing motor control units.  These motor control units include motor starters, branch feeder devices, variable frequency drives, relays, circuit breakers, fuses, programmable logic controllers, pilot devices, and meters.  LV MCCs provide the most suitable method for grouping electrical motor control, automation, and power distribution in a compact and economic package.

More information on the Low Voltage Motor Control Centers selection guide.

Machine Safeguarding Solutions

As humans and machines work together, the operations become more efficient and productive, which is possible only if safety technology is in place.  The need for safety has become one of the most important aspects of industrial automation.  Protecting workers has become a necessity and industries need to comply with safety standards for factory automation.

The growing trend toward digitization and connected devices drives demand for smart safety solutions.  Manufacturers are leveraging Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities to build a safe connected enterprise, which enables better visibility of plant operations and real-time diagnostics.  Smart safety solutions enable data collection, information sharing enhancing worker and environmental safety and productivity.

More information on the Machine Safeguarding Solutions selection guide.

Collaborative Robots

The global demand for robots is expected to accelerate in the years to come as the manufacturing sector across the world embrace new approaches to automation.  Collaborative robots or cobots (derived from human-robot collaboration) are key smart factory technologies making manufacturing more efficient and competitive in the global marketplace.  Unlike traditional robots that are complex and heavy, require protective guards, and are designed to function independently or with limited assistance, cobots are generally lightweight, programmable machines designed to work hand in hand with human beings to offer cost-effective, safe, and enhanced automation services to manufacturing of any size.  Cobots can perform a wide range of tasks; however, ideal jobs for cobots are mundane, high-precision, burdensome tasks that do not require critical thinking or that require human interaction with dangerous machinery. 

More information on the Collaborative Robots selection guide.

Industrial Ethernet

This evolution of manufacturing includes industrial Ethernet cementing its position as a key platform in both automation and infrastructure architectures, including the core architectures embodied in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Industrie 4.0, and IT/OT convergence.  Industrial Ethernet Devices play a pivotal role in the connectivity-enabled business improvement strategies of the future.  This is particularly true in the case of both the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industry 4.0 (I4.0), each of which relies heavily on integration of field and asset data with enterprise-level business improvement applications; many of which are resident in the Cloud. 

No longer just a network accessory, the industrial Ethernet switch has evolved from its origins as a simple factory data acquisition device.  Today, these switches serve a continually broadening spectrum of applications and end user industries.  Potential Ethernet device or switch buyers need a sound roadmap to guide them through the maze of new configuration options.

More information on the Industrial Ethernet Devices selection guide.
More information on the Industrial Ethernet Switches selection guide.