What is Industrial Automation?

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A dictionary definition of automation is the use or introduction of automatic equipment in a manufacturing or other process or facility”.

Industrial automation centres mainly around the automation of manufacturing, material handling, and processing. It originally existed to replace the decision making and labour of humans in order to increase productivity and reduce workforce costs. However, the main aim has now moved into increasing the quality of the manufacturing process to produce higher quality products and results.

Where and how industrial automation would be implemented depends greatly on the type of product or process, the feasibility of an automated solution, as well as company preference and culture. Some companies may insist on the use of automated equipment for their supply chain, for example, so automation may be required to secure certain types of work.

What is Industrial Automation | The Technology Behind Industrial Automation

Several types of device and components are manufactured primarily for the industrial automation marketplace. Most automated systems will be controlled by a Programmable Logic Controller (PLC). There are a huge number of manufacturers of PLCs, with some of the most popular brands being Siemens, Allen Bradley, Mitsubishi Electric, Omron and Schneider Electric. A PLC is essentially a “ruggedised” digital computer which has been designed specifically for an industrial automation environment. PLCs differ significantly from personal computers; a PLC is a real-time system which must reliably output results in response to input conditions, and must be processing constantly and repeatedly without intervention. There are several possible programming languages for PLCs and the implementation of these will vary between manufacturers, but the most common are ladder diagram, structured text, function block diagram, instruction list and sequential flow chart.

A PLC will receive information via input conditions, most commonly via sensors, buttons or signals from other controller devices. Examples of sensors include pressure, flow, temperature and presence. The PLC will perform tasks through actuator outputs, which can include valves, relays and servos, as well as simple devices like lamps.

In order to communicate the current status of a control system, a PLC will normally communicate to an external device to display data and accept user input. These will most commonly be one, or several, human machine interface (HMI) screens, a distributed control system (DCS) or a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system. Most PLC producers will offer solutions for these, but there is cross-compatibility between different manufacturers so there is no need to be tied down exclusively to one brand.

What is Industrial Automation | Where and How To Implement Industrial Automation

The question of where and when to implement industrial automation is a complex one. For some processes, automation would not be feasible. If a company manufacturers a product which changes regularly, and is made in limited runs, an automated system would require constant re-engineering which would not be cost or time effective. However, there are clear advantages in the majority of cases. For example, monitoring the temperature of a tank and automatically adjusting a valve to regulate it is a process which benefits significantly compared to relying on human intervention and judgement. Likewise, controlling a repetitive but complex sequence of valves and actuators in a filtration system will benefit, as it will eliminate the potential for human error compared to when the valves are controlled manually. Whether a specific process benefits will always be subject to assessment, however, industrial and manufacturing automation exists first and foremost to improve quality, reliability and safety in the workplace.

If you are considering industrial automation to improve productivity or quality control in your business then take advantage of our FREE ANALYSIS to see how industrial automation could be integrated with your current technologies to improve your work flow.If you’d like to speak to a member of our team directly please contact us.

Tom LeMasonry
Project Engineer
Feed4ward Control Ltd

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