Automation is the use of technology to help reduce human intervention and effort in several processes across industries using electronics or computer applications. Automation is a very vast concept. Let’s understand what automation means and what it offers to the industry and the business world in terms of advantages and challenges.
What is Automation?
The word “Automation” was coined for the first time in the automobile industry in 1946, which denoted the use of automatic machines or devices and controls in the production lines. It was mainly associated with the manufacturing sector, but it has wide applications in various industries. It eliminates tedious and repetitive tasks.
Automation means the technique of enabling a machine, system, or process to operate automatically (i.e., it can work without human intervention). It is concerned with almost all the functions in a production process, such as installation, integration, design, maintenance, procurement, and management.
Automation is a very vast aspect that includes various technologies. These technologies are robotics, control, sensors, cybersecurity, process measurement systems, etc. Technologies like these enhance the speed and efficiency of tasks. Basic automation is used to streamline and simplify routine tasks and reduce turnaround time. But there are different types of automation, which help in several different processes.
Types of Automation
When we talk about the types of automation, there can be various categorizations and approaches. But broadly, automation is classified into three parts -
(a) Fixed Automation,
(b) Programmable Automation,
(c) Flexible automation
Fixed Automation (Hard Automation)
Fixed or hard automation is the technology applied to physical equipment or devices to automate routine tasks. The operation of these mechanical devices is not very complex in nature, and they generally perform a single task over and over.
For example, devices in assembly lines such as automatic screwdrivers, riveting machines, joining devices, etc. It is used where there are generally high-production needs. It is fixed by equipment configuration.
Programmable automation, as the name suggests, allows for programming and flexibility in processes. It is one step advanced from the fixed automation where only one task is performed.
This is a form of automation applied in the production of batches. For each batch, automation machines are reprogrammed. For each cycle, the code is programmed into the system to run in a specific way. The most common examples of programmable automation are traditional thermostats and traditional cruise control. They are considered to be less expensive than fixed automation.
But the production rate is slower in comparison to fixed and flexible automation due to the change over time in between the functions. It is most suitable for medium to high production level requirements and where the product variety is low.
Flexible Automation (Soft Automation)
Flexible automation provides more flexibility to programmable automation and is one step ahead. It doesn’t require any change over time in between functions which makes it possible to produce a spectrum of products with next to negligible downtime. There is no need to reprogram the machines again and again, as it enables automatic and rapid changes to programmed sequences.
Human operators give commands or codes to the computer systems, which allows the automatic low-level changes by the system and identifying the processes.
Flexible Automation includes the following components:
- Part processing machines
- Material-handling system
- Central computer control system
- Human labour
Apart from these three major types of automation, there are several other interesting approaches to automation. They are explained below:
The main purpose of automation is to increase productivity and reduce time to perform a task. But now, the focus has shifted to increase quality and flexibility in the manufacturing processes. Industrial automation is the use of technologies in the industrial sector for the control of different activities or processes.
It is an advanced form of mechanization. It allows automated operating machines to complete the processes. The main advantages of industrial automation are:
- Increase in the product quality
- High productivity
- High flexibility & reliability
- High information accuracy
- Competitive advantages
- Time reduction and improved control
Integrated automation technology combines and collaborates with the automated machines along with digitally operated and computer-controlled systems. It allows the computer systems to have central control over the industrial and non-industrial processes, along with robotic technologies.
Integrated automation encompasses technologies such as automated material handling systems, computer-aided process planning, coordinated drive systems, and advanced motion control, production process test systems and process monitoring sensors, industrial energy management systems, etc.
IT Automation is the technology that makes it easy for robotic technology to interact with humans in a digital environment. It is a predefined set of codes and commands that are executed by the robots. The main purpose is to eliminate monotonous and repetitive tasks.
This type of automation is the technology that uses software, computer codes to carry out the tasks done by humans. Examples of IT automation are HRMS, CRM, Marketing Software, Project Management Software such as Personal Digital Assistants, Web Analytics, Digital Technology, and Troubleshooting, Data migration, Scheduling systems, Expense management, etc.
There are three types of IT Automations -
- Business Process Automation (BPA)
- Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
- Intelligent Process Automation (IPA)
There are more approaches in Automation Technology such as:
- Computer-aided manufacturing
- Cognitive intelligence
- Conversational automation
Advantages of Automation
Some of the major advantages of automation are:
- Increased Productivity - The main advantage of automation is the increase in productivity. The speed and accuracy of the machines increase, and the rate of error also decreases, which in turn increases the production rate.
- Improved Quality and Reliability - Automation technology helps in the reduction of errors and deviations, which improves quality and reliability. Work is done with high precision.
- Reduced Waste - Automation in the industries helps in increasing operational efficiency and process improvement, which leads to waste reduction. Automation also avoids unnecessary activities and rework.
- Reduced Production Cost - An increase in productivity and reduction in waste and errors leads to reduced production costs. Automation also increases the Return on Investment. (ROI).
- Competitive Edge - Automation in the industries also helps the companies to gain a competitive edge over the others. Reduction in cost and accuracy also attracts customers.
Challenges of Automation
Some of the major challenges of automation are:
- Cost Involved - Automation leads to a reduction in errors and an increase in production rate. It is said to reduce the overall cost, but still, there are other types of costs involved. Some of the major costs involved are the initial investment cost of automation, training cost, maintenance cost, etc.
- Training - When Industrial processes are fully automated or even partly automated, the employees working there have to be trained to control the systems. Training takes time and money, along with the workers’ willingness to accept the change.
- Selecting the right automation technology - The major issue or challenge for business owners to choose the right automation technology as per their demand and business needs.
- Fear or resistance to new technology adoption - Not every personnel is in favour of advanced technologies, as some of them see it as a threat to their jobs and career. Some of them even are reluctant and prefer to stick to their old ways of working.
- Fast-changing business environment - The business environment changes very quickly. To match the speed and keep the business upgraded all the time is also a big challenge for automation technology.
- What is the purpose of automation?
The primary purpose of automation is to stay ahead in the business world. It is important as it provides growth and success to the industries. Other purposes of automation are:
- Accuracy and consistency
- Saves time
- High production rate.
- Is Automation good for the economy?
Yes, Automation is good for the economy as it increases economies of scale and economy of scope. It helps in securing the future of the economy. Automation also grabs new opportunities for the business world, such as creating new jobs, economic growth, more consumer spending, and higher productivity. Automation also results in a reduction in the prices of goods and services.
- How is automation improving our life?
Automation is improving our lives in the following ways:
- Elimination of work by labour in dangerous or harmful working conditions.
- Increased product variety.
- Increase in productivity.
- Increased need for new skills.
- Increased value for human labour.
- Focuses on the idea of ‘doing’ rather than thinking.
- Helps in the healthcare sector, such as accurate. microsurgery or other activities in hospitals.
- Helps in managing finances.