Worker shortages. Safety concerns. Sustainability. These challenges touch many manufacturers in some way.
Automation can help address all of these, says Rodney Howard, process control product manager for Werner Electric Supply. A desire to educate companies about automation solutions drove Werner to host a Rockwell Automation on the Move workshop in Green Bay.
The event, held May 10 and 11 at the KI Center, included technical sessions, a vendor exhibition floor and hands-on labs that allowed attendees to try new products, Howard says. “Rockwell Automation and RAOTM (allows) them to do those deep dives and network and ask questions.”
Glen Schneider, account manager for Rockwell Automation, says the event, with more than 450 registered, was geared toward anyone from engineering to maintenance to operations, and even IT. “It’s a good way to get updated on current products and trends,” he says.
Process automation touches just about every industry from food and beverage to power generation, Howard says, and it offers opportunities for greater efficiency and consistency. To demonstrate this, he uses an example of a cheese plant.
When a company makes cheese, the process may involve metering in the proper amount of dairy or cream, using a flow controller that accurately measures in the amount of product that flows in, and relying on a temperature control device. All of this is automation.
Companies can tailor automation solutions to fit their needs. Take production versus artisan. A production realm requires fulfilling a “pipeline of product movement,” Howard says, whereas artisan solutions may focus more heavily on recipe management.
Gone are the days when a person would need to manually enter a set-point on a controller. “That’s all done automatically now, so we don’t need that number of people, which is a great thing because it moves into the whole aging workforce and that loss of expertise,” Howard says.
Projections show that it could be 2050 before the number of people available to work matches the demand for technical jobs, Howard says, and automation can help fill the gap.
This, however, doesn’t mean workers should worry about losing their jobs. Howard recalls working on a project to automate a gas field. People were concerned about losing their jobs, because the field had relied heavily on manual labor. That didn’t happen.
Howard says the project wasn’t about eliminating jobs. It was about optimization, which creates new roles for people. It allowed workers to focus on other, more important issues. “In a way, it almost forces collaboration, which is a great thing.”
Automation also allows companies, especially those in high-risk industries, to operate more safely. Businesses like refineries use emergency shutdown systems that activate in the event of catastrophe. In these situations, automation can respond more quickly than any human could to shut down a system.
Howard hopes people came away from the event excited about the possibilities automation can offer. The networking, he says, can give attendees confidence moving forward and knowing that implementing these tools isn’t as intimidating as it may seem.
“There’s a lot of sharing that goes on at these events. It takes (people) up a notch,” Howard says. “The goal is to get them to start asking more questions.”