Eddy Azad, founder and CEO of Parsec, explores the potential for automation beyond managing production equipment.

If you’re dealing with high-volume manufacturing, automation is the way to stay on top of demand. If you have complex manufacturing, automation makes it possible to consistently produce quality products. If you have low-margin manufacturing, automation provides the means for economic viability.

Within the world of manufacturing, automation is typically associated with managing production equipment—it’s machine, system, or device-centric in nature. Automation, however, can be about so much more than that.

Taking prescribed action based on sensory feedback and defined rules makes a lot of sense. However, consider that managing manufacturing operations goes well beyond interaction with equipment. There are many complexities and dependencies throughout the value stream—both within and without the factory. Technological advancements and the need for digitalization are making a compelling case to usher in a new dimension for automation: workflow.

Workflow covers a very broad space. Consider the potential for coordination of operations among various departments within the factory—the number of use cases for improvement are numerous.

Seamlessly integrating activities, regardless of discipline, will yield huge dividends. Imagine not being blindsided by disruptions not having anything to do with your core responsibility. Regular and timely visibility through harmonized workflow automation will deliver on the digitalization promises. This mustn’t be limited to the factory only. Interactions between supply chain partners also present countless opportunities for automation. You may now go beyond simply imagining what it would be like to have your suppliers know what you need, and when you need it…the rules and workflow can be defined and automated.

You ought to be able to plan and coordinate with foresight and relevant information to get the most out of your resources: less waste, shorter cycle times, more efficient execution, and better environmental stewardship. This means that we must enable our people to work as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Business disruptions, safety concerns, regulatory requirements, customer service, economic pressure, and competition all relentlessly push for aggressively pursuing workflow automation. Consider the emergence of cloud computing, AI, machine learning, analytics, IIoT, mobility, enhanced capabilities of the new manufacturing-execution system software applications, and ever-expanding benefits of digitally integrated operations. They all point the way toward automation above and beyond equipment.

The current pandemic is impacting all types of businesses and lives worldwide. There’s no question that how business is conducted must be reimagined and adjusted. Everyone focused on successfully moving ahead should be asking themselves How do I do things better and more effectively? How do I make sure my business is more resilient and more agile? How do I ensure the next disruption won’t be a business extinction event?

Well, automation isn’t the only answer, but it will play a major role in establishing a significantly more robust and sustainable business—today and tomorrow. Socially responsible application of automation not only saves jobs, it creates new opportunities for innovation and business expansion. It’s good for the consumers, it’s good for the manufacturers, and it’s good for the workforce.