By Ashley Belliveau
Automation is top of mind for nearly every manufacturer these days. With pressure to cut costs, increase productivity, streamline processes, and ensure accuracy, it’s become essential to relieve manual labor from the burden of high-volume, repetitive tasks.
As manufacturers look to automated solutions, robotic integration in the forms of robotic process automation and test automation has gained momentum. While there are similarities between the two, they are not synonymous. Below, we discuss robotic process automation and test automation to better understand what both have in common and how they differ.
What is Robotic Process Automation?
Robotic process automation (RPA) couples artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities to perform high-volume, repetitive tasks that otherwise would have required a human to perform. By freeing workers of tedious, monotonous tasks, integrating robotic process automation affords manufacturers many benefits, including minimizing errors to improve accuracy and streamlining production for faster time to market.
With the right expertise and technology, robotic process automation can be leveraged to perform virtually any process within manufacturing. At Steven Douglas Corp. (SDC), our team of experts has designed and built robotic process automation systems to complete a variety of tasks, including but not limited to:
- Picking and placing parts
- Joining, welding, pressing, and otherwise assembling parts
- Laser marking and cutting
- Surface finishing, grinding, and polishing
- Inspecting and verifying parts and assemblies
- Grouping and packing products
- Loading and stacking pallets or trays
What is Test Automation?
Test automation systems, sometimes referred to as robotic test automation, can be programmed to verify certain criteria within manufacturing. For example, an automated test system can be programmed to verify different features on parts like color, shape, and size, or ensure optimal pressure, temperature, force, or torque in a work cell. Some examples of test automation in manufacturing include but are not limited to:
- Characterization systems
- Vision inspection systems
- Leak and pressure testing systems
- Temperature sensing and control systems
- Electrical voltage and current testing
Keep in mind, robots, while by themselves do not have testing capabilities, are commonly integrated into test automation systems. In these instances, robots are typically used to pick up, maneuver, and/or place the part that is being tested.
Compared to manual testing, there are many advantages to integrating test automation within manufacturing. Test automation can help manufacturers save time by eliminating inefficient methods for quality assurance, in addition to ensuring accuracy with recordings and increasing test coverage.
Robotic Process Automation vs. Test Automation
Robotic process automation and test automation can seem very similar given that both rely on automation and yield comparable benefits that help manufacturers increase productivity while saving time and money. When looking at the respective capabilities of each, though, test automation focuses solely on testing parts and products, while robotic process automation encompasses far more. Indeed, testing is a process that falls under the robotic process automation umbrella. However, it’s just one piece of the puzzle when looking at the many capabilities of robotic process automation as described above.
Both robotic process automation and test automation will play increasingly important roles in manufacturing moving forward. To stay ahead of the curve and improve your bottom line, SDC can design and build custom and special machines to automate your manufacturing processes. Our controls engineering team has the experience and training to successfully recommend, implement, and program the optimal robotic package, regardless of supplier and brand, to your specific needs. Contact us today to discuss your upcoming automation project.