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Operational Excellence
Flexible Manufacturing
Operational Excellence

What’s in store for automation in 2024? Six predictions from OMRON Europe

Udgivet kl. 13. december 2023 i Operational Excellence

The succession of shocks over the last few years has heralded a new era of heightened geopolitical and economic risk. This is prompting manufacturers to build resilience and flexibility into business models and rethink global supply chains and relationships. At the same time, pressure is mounting to incorporate ESG principles into operational decision making. AI, data science, digital twins and sensing, monitoring and vision technology will all be essential to developing automation and control solutions that can help the manufacturing industry adapt to this new reality. In this context, I would like to share the top six trends that will impact and shape industrial automation in 2024 and beyond.

Trend #1 supporting local-for-local production

The recent supply scarcities exposed the fragility of global supply chains, prompting many manufacturers to question the wisdom of long, complex supply chains and delocalised production. Consequently, companies are both on-shoring and localising their manufacturing capabilities, insulating them against future shocks and reducing the distance to the customer. Manufacturers are looking to implement this shift in strategy with cross-border support from their automation partners - they want transferable, universal solutions that can be replicated in different geographies, and they want standardised production so that their customers are guaranteed the same product regardless of where it is made. This calls for heavy investment in innovation, a joined up, cross-border approach to design and a strong network of system integrators.

Trend #2 CX to the fore

The supply crises have also diminished the role of product and price in purchasing decision making, and amplified the importance of proximity and experience. This is changing the way that manufacturers connect with and relate to their automation partners. They no longer want to buy a ‘system’, they want a ‘solution’, and service and back-up carry more weight than ever before. Recognising this as an enduring trend, for the last few years, OMRON has been moving away from a product-centric business model and towards a solutions-led approach that puts the customer experience at its core. We firmly believe that if manufacturers can understand how intelligent automation can solve the issues they encounter, they will engage with it.

Trend #3 connecting OT and IT to cost-optimise flexible manufacturing

The shift towards flexible manufacturing, which has been underway for some years, is gaining momentum and evolving as a concept for enabling manufacturers to pivot quickly if the need arises. HMLV manufacturing has reached new levels of personalisation - particularly in the pharmaceutical industry - and flexible workflows that can switch seamlessly between different products are characteristic of localised production. However, the main challenge with flexible manufacturing is making it financially viable. OMRON believes that connecting the OT world with the IT world is the key to optimising the cost of engineering and predicts that in 2024 and beyond, digital twinning will be widely adopted for this purpose. With digital twin technology, companies can re-engineer production and test changes in a virtual environment. Not only does this reduce development time, it also de-risks and cost-optimises projects.

Trend #4 data analytics to inform sustainability-led decisions

As well as utilising virtual reality to optimise costs, manufacturers will increasingly rely on real world machine monitoring to make flexible, localised manufacturing operations more streamlined - and more sustainable. Manufacturers in all sectors are looking to reduce raw material and energy consumption and are looking to their automation providers for answers. In a factory setting, data acquisition and analysis in conjunction with high performance control systems can drive improvements in this area. To this end, OMRON has developed i-BELT, a service that uses the principles of the Internet of Things (IoT) and data analysis to improve the efficiency of automated systems. 

Trend #5 sharpened safety focus drives automated inspection

Another challenge that accompanies flexible manufacturing is maintaining safety and quality standards. That is because, the more variables there are in the production mix, the greater the potential for errors and problems. In a world where brands are increasingly subject to public scrutiny and reputations can be destroyed in an instant, companies are taking safety more seriously than ever. This is driving the development of automated AI-powered inspection systems that ensure the safety, integrity and quality of each individual product - even in batch size one operations.

Trend #6 AI at the edge and beyond

In everyday life, the omnipotence of AI might be perceived as a threat, but in the domain of industrial automation, it represents a huge - and still largely untapped - opportunity to continuously improve system performance.

OMRON is applying AI ‘at the edge’, in robotics, controllers and vision systems. We are using it to identify very small defects in mirrored surfaces and to detect jams inside packaging machines. Our remit for AI is the production environment and we will continue to explore and advance its use in this.

In the next few years, the transition to a new paradigm of fully flexible manufacturing will dominate and guide the direction of automation developments. This will allow companies to deal with future supply chain challenges while meeting customer demands. In parallel we will see a move to more autonomous manufacturing, which prioritises quality, safety and sustainability. 

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  • Fernando Colás

    Fernando Colás

    CEO of OMRON's Industrial Automation Business Unit (IAB) Europe