Auto-mate; why automation can be a business’s best friend
Automation and the manufacturing/production industries are no strangers; they’ve been bosom buddies since the 1970s and have been quietly reshaping business for almost half a century. Few sectors have embraced automation so much and for so long. However, the world is changing and some within the sector are being left behind. Seismic advances in technology – from Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning to the Internet of Things (IoT) and sensor technologies – have redefined what’s possible through automation, giving organisations renewed opportunity to transform processes, strengthen safety and increase efficiencies. Yet few are exploiting it – and of those that are, many aren’t leveraging it as much as they could or indeed should. It’s a curious case. Because in time-critical production environments where every second counts, automation can be a business’s best friend. It’s time to shake hands with the future.
A recent Forbes survey suggests that a high majority (90%) of businesses recognise the importance of equipping workers with the best technologies to fulfil their roles – but only 36% of executives believe they are meeting these obligations. In the same survey, the potential automation of workforce tasks is highlighted as a positive opportunity, with 43% of respondents – the highest segment – believing it empowers workers and allows them to focus on ‘higher-value activities.’ Yet too often it remains overlooked.
The benefits of automation are particularly significant in high-risk production environments, where inefficient processes and poor communications can have a major impact on productivity, profitability and, crucially, workforce safety. Maintaining the ability to respond to critical alerts in a safe, timely fashion is paramount. In this vital area, automation isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.
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A large number of organisations believe they’ve addressed the challenges of operational visibility to ensure they’re better placed to respond to critical incidents. Many have invested heavily in sensor technologies that connect machine processes to sophisticated control centres and give central operators good visibility of operations across multiple sites and locations. However, too often, they fail to join up the dots and automate the final step of the process that connects a critical alert with an appropriate response. This piles pressure on central operators to a) pick out urgent alerts from the everyday fog of more routine warnings and b) mobilise a prompt, appropriate response. Often, the escalation of alerts is a human process that relies on manual contact and archaic communications mechanisms. As a result, the speed of response is, at best, sluggish and, at worst, a hostage to fortune. This need not be the case.
The next generation of automation tools can relieve the pressure on central operators and trigger immediate alerts directly to the most appropriate response teams. Moreover, they can empower recipients with detailed information on the nature of the problem and provide a clear, auditable mechanism to show a job has been accepted and action to resolve it is underway.
The good news is that these transformative automated tools are not only available today, they’re eminently affordable and simple to deploy. The progressive organisations that have already adopted them are unlocking major productivity and efficiency gains and increasing competitive advantage. What’s more, in industries where workers operate in ATEX zones, these automated processes can function via ATEX-approved devices, helping companies maintain a safe, productive and connected workforce.
Modern technologies are providing production and manufacturing organisations with a great opportunity to increase workforce autonomy, strengthen workplace safety and drive efficiency. The downstream impact on productivity and profitability can be huge. To maximise the opportunity – and fuel the factories of the future, today – it makes sense to partner with a technology specialist who can examine your business and identify the areas where automating machine-to-machine and machine-to-human processes can significantly bolster your operations.
First Solar to Invest US$684mn in Indian Energy Sector
First Solar is about to set up a new photovoltaic (PV) thin-film solar manufacturing facility in Tamil Nadu, India. The 3.3GW factory will create 1,000 skilled jobs and is expected to launch its operations in Q3 of 2023. According to the company, India needs 25+ gigawatts of solar energy to be deployed each year for the next nine years. This means that many of First Solar’s Indian clients will jump at the chance to have access to the company’s advanced PV.
Said Mark Widmar, First Solar’s CEO: ‘India is an attractive market for First Solar not simply because our module technology is advantageous in its hot, humid climate. It’s an inherently sustainable market, underpinned by a growing economy and appetite for energy’.
A Bit of Background
First Solar is a leading global provider of photovoltaic systems. It uses advanced technology to generate clear, reliable energy around the world. And even though it’s headquartered in the US, the company has invested in storage facilities around the world. It displaced energy requirements for a desalination plant in Australia, launched a source of reliable energy in the Middle East (Dubai, UAE), and deployed over 4.5GW of energy across Europe with its First Solar modules.
The company is also known for its solar innovation, reporting that it sees gains in efficiency three times faster than multi-crystalline silicon technology. First Solar holds world records in thin-film cell conversion efficiency (22.1%) and module conversion efficiency (18.2%). Finally, it helps its partners develop, finance, design, construct, and operate PV power plants—which is exactly what we’re talking about.
How Will The Tamil Nadu Plant Work?
Tamil Nadu will use the same manufacturing template as First Solar’s new Ohio factory. According to the Times of India, the factory will combine skilled workers, artificial intelligence, machine-to-machine communication, and IoT connectivity. In addition, its operations will adhere to First Solar’s Responsible Sourcing Solar Principles, produce modules with a 2.5x lower carbon footprint, and help India become energy-independent. Said Widmar: ‘Our advanced PV module will be made in India, for India’.
After all, we must mention that part of First Solar’s motivation in Tamil Nadu is to ensure that India doesn’t rely on Chinese solar. ‘India stands apart in the decisiveness of its response to China’s strategy of state-subsidised global dominance of the crystalline silicon supply chain’, Widmar explained. ‘That’s precisely the kind of level playing field needed for non-Chinese solar manufacturers to compete on their own merits’.
According to First Solar, India’s model should be a template for like-minded nations. Widmar added: ‘We’re pleased to support the sustainable energy ambitions of a major US ally in the Asia-Pacific region—with American-designed solar technology’. To sum up: Indian solar power is yet the next development in the China-US trade war. Let the PV manufacturing begin.