Automation or automatic control, is the use of various control systems for operating equipment such as machinery, processes in factories, boilers and heat treating ovens, switching in telephone networks, steering and stabilization of ships, aircraft and other applications with minimal or reduced human intervention. Some processes have been completely automated.
The biggest benefit of automation is that it saves labor, however, it is also used to save energy and materials and to improve quality, accuracy and precision.
The term automation, inspired by the earlier word automatic (coming from automaton), was not widely used before 1947, when General Motors established the automation department. It was during this time that industry was rapidly adopting feedback controllers, which were introduced in the 1930s.
Automation has been achieved by various means including mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic, electrical, electronic and computers, usually in combination. Complicated systems, such as modern factories, airplanes and ships typically use all these combined techniques.
Advantages and disadvantages
The main advantages of automation are:Increased throughput or productivity.Improved quality or increased predictability of quality.Improved robustness (consistency), of processes or product.Increased consistency of output.Reduced direct human labor costs and expenses.
The following methods are often employed to improve productivity, quality, or robustness.Install automation in operations to reduce cycle time.Install automation where a high degree of accuracy is required.Replacing human operators in tasks that involve hard physical or monotonous work.Replacing humans in tasks done in dangerous environments (i.e. fire, space, volcanoes, nuclear facilities, underwater, etc.)Performing tasks that are beyond human capabilities of size, weight, speed, endurance, etc.Economic improvement: Automation may improve in economy of enterprises, society or most of humanity. For example, when an enterprise invests in automation, technology recovers its investment; or when a state or country increases its income due to automation like Germany or Japan in the 20th Century.Reduces operation time and work handling time significantly.Frees up workers to take on other roles.Provides higher level jobs in the development, deployment, maintenance and running of the automated processes.
The main disadvantages of automation are:Security Threats/Vulnerability: An automated system may have a limited level of intelligence, and is therefore more susceptible to committing errors outside of its immediate scope of knowledge (e.g., it is typically unable to apply the rules of simple logic to general propositions).Unpredictable/excessive development costs: The research and development cost of automating a process may exceed the cost saved by the automation itself.High initial cost: The automation of a new product or plant typically requires a very large initial investment in comparison with the unit cost of the product, although the cost of automation may be spread among many products and over time.
In manufacturing, the purpose of automation has shifted to issues broader than productivity, cost, and time.