What is Industrial Automation

Industrial Automation is a way of reducing human intervention in a process through the use of control systems.  That is the simplest definition I can come up with yet for twenty plus years I've struggled to explain to the masses what I do for a living.  I've even gone through numerous job titles trying clarify it until I finally gave up and adopted my current title of "Industrial Sorcerer".  

Basic automation example.  Let's try to understand the need for automation using some basic task that we do everyday that have been automated.

  • Thermostat - A thermostat, such as the one that turns on the heat in your home or regulates the temperature of your oven, is one of the simplest and earliest examples of automation.  It accomplishes several things:
    • Increased quality through the reduction of temperature variation.  Where as before someone would have had to noticed it was cold before turning the heat on and noticed it was hot before turning it on, the thermostat does it based off of the ambient temperature of the room.
    • Reduction or elimination of labor.  Where as before someone may have had to shoveled more coal into a boiler or put more wood on a fire, the thermostat is now connected to some type of automatic heat control system.  
    • Reduction of injuries.  These jobs could have been back breaking and were full of burn hazards.
    • Reduction of fire hazards.  Unfortunately in almost every accident, human error is the cause.  Automating these processes helps assure that operating parameters are not exceeded.

What are examples of industrial automation?

  • Pump stations
  • Chemical manufacturing
  • Vision systems for parts inspection
  • Waste water treatment
  • CNC machining
  • Pick and place robots

What are the advantages of automation?

  • Increased productivity
  • Increased quality
  • Reduction in labor expenses
  • Increased reliability
  • Eliminate dangerous or undesirable jobs
  • Do task in dangerous environments 

What are the disadvantages of automation?

  • High upfront cost.  This is really the only disadvantage I can think of and really it isn't a disadvantage as much as it takes a larger upfront investment to get a larger return on investment.

The biggest myth of automation...it kills jobs.  I could write tons to explain that it doesn't, but I'll leave that to your Googling.  You'll find some truth and other trying to profit from the fears of others.  What automation does do it change jobs and the pace at which it is changing jobs is increasing exponentially.  It is imperative that we continuously retrain our workforce accordingly.