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Mike Bearden
Mike Bearden

Introduction To Industrial Automation



In this article, we will see an overview of Industrial Automation, what are the advantages of disadvantages of Industrial Automation, different types of automation systems, different levels in a typical industrial Automation Application and many more.




Introduction to Industrial Automation



Today, Industrial Automation has taken over the production process in industries and it is very difficult to imagine a production line without automation systems. There are several factors that lead to the implementation of automation system in industrial production like requirement of high-quality products, high expectations in product reliability, high-volume production etc.


Industrial Automation is a process of operating machines and other industrial equipment with the help of digital logical programming and reducing human intervention in decision making and manual command process with the help of mechanized equipment.


Consider a manual industrial production process, where an operator is observing the temperature of an oven. Assume the task is to reach a certain temperature and maintain that temperature for about 30 minutes.


Now, with industrial automation, the whole process is taken care of without the help of an operator. First, there is a temperature sensor placed near the oven which reports the temperature to a computer.


The above example may seem vague but it helps in understanding how a typical industrial automation system can be implemented. In the above example, there are absolutely zero human interventions and the whole task is completely carried out by the automation system.


The term Automation is coined by an Engineer from Ford Motor Company, who were pioneers in industrial automation and manufacturing assembly line. In the beginning, the industrial production process is based on the eyes, hands and brain of a worker, in contrast to modern day sensors, actuators and computers.


Originally, the implementation of automation in a production process is focused on replacing a human worker with an independent machine. Initially, these independent machines had to be coordinated by a human supervisor for a smooth production process.


But with technological developments in analog and digital control systems, microprocessors and PLCs (Programmable Logic Controllers) and various sensors, it has become very easy to synchronize several independent machines and processes and achieve true industrial automation.


Sitting at the top of hierarchy, the supervisor level usually consists of an Industrial PC, which is usually available as a desktop PC or a Panel PC or a Rack-mounted PC. These PCs run on standard operating systems with a special software, usually provided by the supplier for industrial process control.


The Control Level is the mid-level in the hierarchy and this is the level where all the automation related programs are executed. For this purpose, generally, Programmable Logic Controllers or PLCs are used, which provide real-time computing capability.


Now that we have seen a little bit about the layout of a typical industrial automation system, let us proceed with the discussion of the different type of Industrial Automation Systems. Industrial Automation Systems are usually categorized into four types.


An Integrated Automation System is a set of independent machines, processes and data, all working synchronously under the command of a single control system to implement an automation system of a production process. CAD (Computer Aided Design), CAM (Computer Aided Manufacturing), computer-controlled tools and machines, robots, cranes and conveyors are all integrated using complex scheduling and production control.


Industrial automation is the use of technologies such as computer software and robotics to control machinery and processes which replace human beings in performing specific functions. The functions are primarily centered on manufacturing, quality control and material handling processes. The initial goals of industrial automation were focused on increasing productivity by extending work hours, and reducing the costs of maintaining a large human workforce. These goals have gradually shifted, and are now more focused on improving quality and flexibility.


For example, automated machinery can install pistons into a car engine with an error rate of 0.00001%, compared with the manual error rate of 1-1.5%. Manufacturing processes can be more flexible when automated, since robots can be programmed to do a new task more quickly than you can train the workers. Production lines can also become safer for workers, when robots are deployed into the most hazardous conditions. The main downsides to industrial automation are the high initial investment required to switch to automated production lines, and the costs involved in training employees to handle the equipment. Another disadvantage is the potential societal impact: many workers feel anxious about job security as automation may render their skills, education, and experience unnecessary.


With the arrival of automation, control loops were added to machine operation. These can be open control loops that allow for human input or closed loops which are fully automated. Industrial control systems (ICS) allow for monitoring and control locally and remotely. With these increasingly advanced control mechanisms, industries can operate 24 hours a day. Productivity has increased, errors are reduced and quality is improved. However, automation does have some negative impact, including high initial costs, reduced worker employment and the elimination of some ethical human oversight. As automation continues to advance and gain popularity in new industries, it is possible to see these events increase.


Recent advancements in automation in industrial production are focused on flexibility and quality. Manufacturing flexibility not only allows for more product types, but also lets consumers order customized products that are automatically produced.


Automation is the control of machines and processes by independent systems through the use of various technologies which are based on computer software or robotics. Industry implements automation to increase productivity and reduce labor costs.


Industrial automation utilizes various industrial communication devices such as programmable logic controllers (PLCs), programmable automatic controllers (PACs) which are used to control the industry. In industries, control strategies use a set of technologies implemented to achieve the desired result, making automation systems necessary in industries.


Industrial automation improves the rate of production through superior control of production. It helps to produce bulk by significantly reducing product processing time with better quality. Therefore, a given labor input it produces a large number of results.


Integrating several processes in an industry with automated machinery, minimizes cycle times and effort, reducing the need for human labor. Due to the industrial automation, the investment on workers has been saved. Thus, the investment in workers has been saved with industrial automation.


Since automation reduces human involvement, the possibility of human error is also eliminated. Due to automation, consistent and reliable product quality can be maintained with greater automation compliance by adaptively controlling and monitoring industrial processes at all stages, from the laboratory to the industrial level.


The automation can completely reduce the need to manually check for various process parameters. Making the use of automation technologies, industrial processes automatically adjusts process variables to define values using closed-loop control techniques. The complexity of operating processes is reduced with industrial automation. The industrial automation decreases the level of personal safety by replacing it with automated machines working in harsh conditions.


In fixed automation, the sequence of processing operations is set by the equipment parameters. Each of the operation in a fixed or hard automation sequence is usually simple; it is the combination and coordination of many operations into one piece of equipment that makes the system more complicated. This type of automation is characterized by high initial investment cost and high production rates. It is, therefore, suitable for products with very high demand and volumes. Machine transfer lines, automatic assembly machines, and certain chemical processes instruments are examples of fixed automation.


The production equipment is designed to be able to modify the sequence of operations to the different product configurations in this automation. The sequence of operation is controlled by a programming, which is a set of coded instructions allowing the system to read and interpret them. This automation is particularly appropriate for batch production process where production volume is medium to high. It is hard to change and recognize the system for a new product or sequence of operations. Numerically controlled machines, steel rolling mills, paper mills, and industrial robots are the examples of programmable automation.


A flexible or soft automated system is a system that is capable of producing a wide range of products with essentially no time for changes from one product to another. It is a fully programmable automation. There is no loss of production time when reprogramming the automation system and changing the physical parameter of the product. As a result, the system can produce different combinations and schedules of products instead of requiring them to be manufactured in separate batches. Examples of this automation system are self-guided vehicles, automobiles and CNC machines.


Automation describes a wide range of technologies that reduce human intervention in processes, namely by predetermining decision criteria, subprocess relationships, and related actions, as well as embodying those predeterminations in machines.[1] Automation has been achieved by various means including mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic, electrical, electronic devices, and computers, usually in combination. Complicated systems, such as modern factories, airplanes, and ships typically use combinations of all of these techniques. The benefit of automation includes labor savings, reducing waste, savings in electricity costs, savings in material costs, and improvements to quality, accuracy, and precision. 041b061a72


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