Saving Time With Automation

Apr 4, 2023 | 9 Minute Read

Looking back thirty years or so, the notion of an automated home/workspace was an ideal reserved for the extremely wealthy or the work of science fiction. 

Although some luxuries are afforded to those on a bigger pay cheque, for the most part, here we are, in the 21st century where home automation can be saved for and bought more reasonably. In a day and age where the term ‘time poverty’ is becoming increasingly used, automated appliances in both the home and the workplace could be just the key to creating and giving us, more time. 

What does automation mean in 2023?

As defined; automation means utilizing machinery as an alternative to human efforts, simply put, a system that operates automatically. There are three categories of manufacturing automation that have evolved to meet specific production needs: fixed, programmable, and flexible automation. 

Fixed automation manufacturing is a term used for a system where automated production processes and assembly are fixed to produce a single type of product. It is also referred to as hard automation, the production sequence is fixed by the configuration of tooling and equipment. It can be a challenge to change product styles once in place, so fixed automation is used by manufacturers of products with high demand volumes and production rates.

Programmable automation, however, enables commands to be programmed into the system to change the operation sequences and configurations. Programmable automation systems allow for production runs in varying quantities, and with its flexible process, it means it is well-suited to batch production runs.

Flexible automation is a method of manufacturing that is responsive to changing production needs. Controlled and programmed by human operators, computerised systems can produce multiple product types and quantities simultaneously. Downtime in production between batches is avoided because changeover is achieved via computer programming. This makes flexible automation an ideal option for manufacturers of customised and made-to-order products.

So, now you know what types of manufacturing automation there are, let’s dive into what automation looks like in the 21st century.

Leading research and advisory agency Gartner stated that 2022 will be the year of the automation surge. With 80% of organisations indicating they will continue to, and/or increase their spending on automation. Branching into sectors such as smart homes, security, software, and production. Automation was brought about to make life easier for humans. 

A few automation technologies used in the manufacturing industry include, Industry 4.0, The Industrial Internet Of Things, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, The Cloud, Cy-bersecurity, Advanced Materials And Additive Manufacturing, Modelling, Simulation, Visu-alization, And Immersion. These are all new and evolved technologies that either complete or assist in completing production tasks in multiple production stations. 

But what about in the home? The term ‘home automation’ encompasses different areas of technology that are found in the home. Until recently home automation gave control of the basics of lighting, heating, and cooling systems within the home. With it being referred to commonly as the Internet of Things, it allows everything to have an IP address, so that it could be accessed and controlled remotely. 

Allowing us to be comfortable in our security, home automation involves not only cameras, but motion detectors that notify you when your child returns home from school, ensures all doors are locked, and environmental devices are within your control. Providing centralized control of environmental devices, audio/video systems, security, kitchen appliances and other equipment used in the home, places control and organisation back into the hands of the owner. 

Luxury aside, automation within the home also provides disabled or elderly people with assistance. Home automation systems can be used to automatically turn off machines, after a certain period. Many potentially dangerous household appliances can be connected to a home automation system including faucets, heat styling tools, toasters, and stoves. Home automation for the elderly and disabled can aid in decreasing the worry of family and friends and assist in people feeling safer in their homes.  

Why do we need it?

With respect to work and production, the automation revolution has inspired innovators to create fully automated machines that allow human-robot collaboration. Powered by intelligent drives that communicate the machine’s intentions, these collaborative robots, are aptly named Cobots. Designed to automate and consolidate mundane and repetitive industrial processes, allowing production departments to concentrate on more critical tasks.  

Since its conception in 1996 by J. Edward Colgate and Michael Peshkin, the cobots’ technology has evolved and expanded its footprint. With Universal Robots leading the market with its UR5 cobot, this company alone has distributed to over 55 countries with more than 8,500 cobots. Answering and addressing a market that needed a user-friendly robot that could work with employees and deliver fast ROIs. 

Cobots are what you witness across industries as diverse as energy generation, manufacturing, healthcare, and more. Whereas the previous generation of robots, were essentially designed as replacements for humans. This means that robots are created to work in human-free zones. So, if cobots are designed to assist humans, what sort of technological developments have been made? 

Companies like KUKA are ensuring they cater for diverse industries like aerospace, electron-ics manufacturing, food and beverage manufacturing, laboratory, and research, and much more. The continuous development of robotics ensures that the possibilities of what a cobot can do, continue to increase.

Cobot manufacturing assistance

We are experiencing a time when we have more jobs than there are people to fill them. Thus, companies affected by this, aren’t making enough revenue.

With the aid of cobot technology in manufacturing, employers and employees can use their time more productively and this, in turn, will lead to better time management skills. Cobots aren’t designed to remove the need for human input, but more to assist and present people with the opportunity, to concentrate on detail-orientated tasks, that the cobots can’t do. 

This ethic at work enables employees to complete physically achievable jobs, as opposed to taking on too much, and being left with employee burnout. Using drives to control the cobots allows the robots to become more intelligent, and versatile and their existence of more use. 

The addition of collaborative robots could create a sustainable work environment and continuity of employment. Essentially happy employees’ equal low turnover of staff; increased motivation, time-saving management, expansion of skills, and the banal process of the factory replaced. 

Integrated automation within the home

How many times have you heard yourself or others say, ‘there aren’t enough hours in the day’, frequently I imagine? This phrase has been condensed to create the term, time poverty. 

The pandemic held a magnifying glass to many of the problems of time poverty. The elderly, vulnerable, and parents with children younger than 15 are more susceptible to its repercussions. Characterised as a feeling of persistently having too much to do and not enough time in which to do it, time poverty can have severe and far-reaching consequences. 

Such consequences include poor mental and physical health, which ultimately contributes to slower productivity at home and work. Although working from home allowed time to be saved traveling to and from work, the hours of unpaid and cognitive labour a.k.a ‘the hidden load’, significantly increased. 

Living in a modern culture of ‘always on’ means balancing the workload of home and work, is becoming more and more tricky. Parenting is made harder, and the pressure to respond to social messages is intensified. The Daily Mail dictates that in the UK, 5 hours a week are taken up with cleaning. Not including the time spent organising the household; meal planning, cooking, and washing. Thus, barriers such as these, leave many in predicaments where they are left unable to explore interests, and/or develop industry-based skills to elevate their economic status. 

When we think of smart homes, we imagine scenes from films, with innovative engineers at the helm such as Tony Stark and his butler Jarvis. Wake-up calls, freshly brewed coffee, and curtains that open and close at specific times. Although extravagant, most if not all are integrated into the normality of our daily lives. 

With products such as Alexa that can make calls, send texts, be programmed to set reminders, provide music, podcasts, and much more, is it so inconceivable to think, that inventions such as Amazon’s Astro home robot, are being produced in 2022? 

Can home automation balance the metaphorical scales? 

Automation within the home has developed from basic security features to devices such as the Astro home robot. Home collaborative robots such as these, provide peace of mind and assistance within the home. With built-in tech called Intelligent Motion, the bot navigates your home, learning your habits, and educating itself on places or people in your home to avoid, constantly learning and evolving. 

At present, there are two crucial home robotics markets, these being home care robots and social robots. These cobots either take on a specific chore within the home, or interact with an individual in the house, effectively becoming a companion device. Poised to change the domestic way of life with food preparation, housework, gardening, childcare, elderly assistance, pet care, security and personal service, these robots can and will affect the way we live dramatically. 

Take Anki Vector, an autonomous social cobot, whose purpose is to be a companion. The cobot can independently navigate the owner’s home, self-charge, is voice-activated, and will answer questions.

These advancements in technology have been designed to alleviate the stress of everyday life and pull us away from the prosaic society-imposed chores we feel obligated to do.

The same is true of the enhancement in industrial automation, it is designed to elevate the stress, tediousness, and sometimes hazards of working in a manufacturing plant. It has the potential to give employees a chance to propel their careers, widen their skill set, and excel in a specialty field of their choice.

Set up in less than an hour, cobots with minimal customizations can take on tasks such as handling materials, assembling items, palletizing, packaging, labelling, product quality inspecting, welding, and driving screws, nuts and tending machines. The usage of cobots also extends to enhancing employee morale, generating more employment opportunities, and overall saving time. With discussions being had regarding the 4-day working week and the investigation into whether employees are more productive in 8 hours vs 3, workplace automation could potentially shoulder that burden. 

Managing the strain and fatigue humans place upon themselves, along with further automation at home, we are creating more time. Meaning time poverty may in a few years’ time, be a thing of the past. Generating richer, more fulfilled lives and developing equally satisfied employees, who will now have time to focus on their personal hobbies, skills, social connections, and families.

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