The way in which IT has gained momentum in the last few decades, computer applications have become one of the major areas of investments and sources of competitive advantage. That is why applications like the MRP, ERP and process automation in the manufacturing sector have become so crucial.
Today’s article will explore how process automation came into being and how they evolved from the rigid legacy systems to the need-based applications that are there in the current times.
How Automation has taken the manufacturing sector by storm
The beginning of software applications in the manufacturing industry started in the 1970’s. Initially, the manufacturing organizations started using software applications to automate their most organized and well documented functional area, which was accounts.
Slowly software applications found a place in inventory management. These accounting applications, however, had extremely limited functionality and lacked the depth and detail required for effective management of the overall manufacturing endeavor.
Late in 1970’s the applications Manufacturing Resource Planning or MRP/MRP2 systems were introduced. These systems were capable of providing three major features, which were, 1) Material Planning 2) Material Control and 3) Production Definition.
These applications were widely adopted and still continue to exist in many companies. The reason for their popularity could be attributed to the fact that these applications improved material/resource management and impacted the bottom-line positively for their employers.
Just when MRP was gaining popularilty for real-time management and control of the shop-floor operations a new application Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) started gaining attraction. It has excelled in providing better forecasting, planning, costing, HR, purchase, inventory management and accounting functionalities.
But the issue with ERP systems is that they cannot provide recording and reporting of every single transaction on the floor instantaneously which is the need for efficient plant management.
This gave birth to real-time data collection software applications – we know as process automation.
Early 1990’s saw this basic data collection and scheduling software applications being transformed to the process automation applications of the modern day.
In 1992, MESA or Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association was formed.
Since 1992, process automation has come a long way in the sense of what it could do back then and what it can achieve now. MESA has played a crucial role in this. It has enabled the systematic and well-documented evolution of the process automation by acting as a global forum for manufacturers and application vendors alike.
Towards the early 2000’s customization of process automation paved its way in almost every manufacturing plant. The improvisation in technology has made process automation more and more flexible and easy-to-use for the end customers. By the current year, the advent of new technologies has changed the face of entire process automation in the manufacturing sector.
To conclude, process automation has come a long way from simple data-collection applications originating in the 1980’s to the modern ones we see in the year 2017. The future of these applications also looks bright as markets become more complex, lead times reduce and global competition increases with it. Applications like SCADA, PLC, Recipe management systems are just a few to name that has improved the overall productivity of the factory.
With the way manufacturing technology is evolving into automation and becoming more and more complex and precision oriented, the day is not far away when without human intervention the entire plant will be operated.