What are the four types of industrial automation?

It’s no secret that automation is one of the fastest growing areas of research and development, not just in industrial sectors. However, various forms of industrial automation have existed for years. In its early days, this was simply to perform functions that humans were incapable of doing, or incapable of doing quickly. Nowadays, automation has grown to support a wide range of industrial operations. This post details the four distinct types of industrial automation and how they can be utilised by manufacturers.


Automation in industrial processes

Automation can be beneficial to businesses as it seeks to improve the efficiency of key processes. Automated control systems can also improve health and safety. The end result is that you are able to save time and resources without sacrificing accuracy. Automation is also a great way to guarantee a process can be repeated over and over to the same standard and specifications. Nevertheless, to get the best outcome from industrial automation it’s recommended that you should seek bespoke advice on process and control automation in your industry.

Types of industrial automation

This type of automation involves technology that has been engineered expressly for a specific manufacturing role. For instance, a food conveyor belt could be designed only for the kind of food or drink produced by the factory. Fixed automation is therefore solely for carrying out a single task repetitively to increase process efficiency. These assets are typically controlled by hardware, as opposed to software, which means it is difficult to repurpose fixed automation systems.

Programmable automation equipment, as its name suggests, concerns machinery and tools which can be operated with software. Commands might be inputted by an operator, but it is a computer that dictates how the work will be done. This type of automation is commonplace in factories that produce similar products using the same equipment. For example, a metal press will have a range of different settings which can be used to create metal components of varying sizes depending on the end product. Programmable automation also means that the settings used for certain manufacturing certain products are retained in the computer ready to be used again when needed.

Sometimes called ‘soft automation’, flexible automation is similar to programmable automation as it controls a process through inputted computer code. However, where programmable automation can still require some hardware changes, changes can be made to flexible automation systems solely through software. This enables process adjustments to be made with minimal down-time. Flexible automation is most useful for producing parts in batches, or facilitating the creation of different designs quickly (prototypes).

The most recent incarnation of industrial automation is integrated automation, which sees a lack of any human input in the manufacturing process. Integrated automation involves features throughout the line that add a level of automation to the processes at each step. Settings will still have to be inputted by a technician, but after this has been done parameters within the software will often be able to respond to any issues or changes that arise. This type of automation will typically include a range of features, such as:

  • Computer numerical control (CNC) machines.
  • Automated transport systems, such as conveyor belts and multihead weighers.
  • Process planning using computers.
  • Automatic storage and retrieval.
  • Robotics for material handling.
  • Automated scheduling and production control.

Bespoke industrial facility consultants

Not all the above automation types will be right for your business. It could even be a combination of multiple types of automation at different manufacturing stages will lead to the best results. Contact FESS Group today to discuss how our automation services can help take your business to the next level. Those who embrace process automation are more likely to need responsive machinery maintenance services, which is another area FESS is highly experienced in.

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