Automation is the term used to refer to manufacturing processes designed to be carried out without the intervention of human operators. The most obvious form of automation can be observed in industrial robots. They can also be in the form of control panels, fabricated for running processes like steel manufacture or textile processing.
Types and uses of automation
Apart from the obvious types used in the manufacture industry, automation can be used to describe non-manufacturing systems, in which programmed gadgets can operate without human control.
- For example, in the telecommunications industry, an automatic switching exchange is used. Dialling, transmission and billing are done automatically.
- In the field of aviation an aircraft can be set to 'autopilot' mode.
- Another good example is in the military. Ballistic missiles are guided till the very stage when they can be allowed to fall as free projectiles. The most advanced cruise missiles can detect and avoid obstacles in their paths.
- Railroads deploy automatic signalling devices. Policing on highways can be done. Radars are used to track over speeding vehicles.
Automation arose out of a need for improved efficiency, higher output, and a solution to worker fatigue. Automated robots, in a car welding process for instance, never complain of fatigue or wages. Thus automation has simplified work. Initially robots were used to perform simple tasks too dangerous for humans. Highly skilful robots today can accomplish a wide variety of tasks. Modern robots can transfer, manipulate, and position any kind of work pieces - be they red hot iron bars or sharp metal pieces. Integrated systems of automated machines are now used in the automobile industry.
Essentials of an automated system
Every automated system requires what is known as a feedback loop. This is basically a mechanical, pneumatic or electronic device that senses a certain measurable quantity like pressure, temperature, position and compares it with a desired value. This is done so that a robot 'self-corrects' before committing an error.
Computers are also used in a feedback loop. They work in close conjunction with the automated system and several measures can be set with their help. A computer system is used to monitor and govern the entire operation of a factory - not just for scheduling each step in the manufacturing process, but also for keeping track of inventories.
The concept of automation is rapidly evolving, with the amazing strides taken in technology and revolutionary breakthroughs in microprocessor technology. Human errors are almost done away with. The only workforce that is required to be employed is that of maintenance engineers and electrical operators, when it comes to automating a factory.