What Is Industrial Automation?

Industrial Automation is the process of using digital logical programming and mechanized equipment to operate machines and minimize the need for human intervention in decision making and manual commands. Examples include using machine learning (ML) for predictive maintenance or to identify issues on a production line, and deployment of robots operating autonomously within fixed physical boundaries in a warehouse.

Autonomous systems are also already enhancing aspects of smart manufacturing and warehousing to optimize production lines and associated logistics or resourcing.

The traditional automation pyramid consists of three main levels. At the top are supervisory computers that frequently run specialized industrial process control software and communicate via an industrial LAN or WLAN ethernet. Next is the control level where automation-related programs are executed using equipment such as Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) to provide real-time computing. Finally, field sensors and actuators interface with the controllers through a field bus and communicate via point-to-point connections. The boundaries between those levels are being redefined to eventually give way to ‘smart factories’.

Why Is Industrial Automation Important?

Relatively recent technological advancements in digitalization and connectivity combined with a proliferation of IoT technology like sensors, has allowed us to bring industrial automation to its next level: Industry 4.0. The result has been a significant increase in overall production, improved product quality through integrated control checks in the production process, faster, more efficient production, and a dramatic reduction in human-related costs, all of which contribute to increased business profits.

Environmental benefits include a reduction in pollutants, reduced energy use and a more efficient use of raw materials.

From the human perspective, tedious physical work has been reduced, the need to work in dangerous production environments has been minimized, and challenging tasks like the lifting of heavy objects have been reassigned to machinery. In short, industrial automation will improve human life and increase the standard of the living.

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