What Are the Different Types of Industrial Automation?

Industrial automation for manufacturing utilizes various technology and control systems to operate and control machinery, processes, tasks, and production. Automation in manufacturing facilities is designed to increase industrial output with minimal human intervention, aiming to improve efficiency, productivity, quality, and safety in manufacturing processes while reducing human labor and the risk of errors. Industrial automation is crucial in manufacturing and is widely used in automotive, textiles, medical, food processing, and packaging industries.

Critical Components of Industrial Automation

Some key components of industrial automation for manufacturing include control systems that consist of hardware like sensors and actuators and software such as programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and computer-based control systems that monitor and control various aspects of manufacturing processes. Smart sensors have become increasingly utilized for IoT (Internet of Things) devices that collect data from equipment and processes, providing real-time information to the control system for decision-making. Actuators execute the control system command actions like opening or closing valves, moving conveyor belts, or controlling robotic arms.

Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) are specialized computers designed to control manufacturing processes to process sensor inputs and send outputs to actuators. They are highly reliable and robust. Human-machine interfaces (HMI) provide operators with a visual representation of manufacturing processes, allowing for monitoring and control of the automation system and human intervention when necessary. Robotics also play a significant role in today’s industrial automation, performing repetitive production processes with high precision, speed, and consistency in tasks ranging from welding and painting to assembly and material handling.

4 Common Types of Industrial Automation

The availability of different automation technologies provides manufacturers with solutions to address their various production needs, selecting the type of automation and critical components that suit their specific production requirements. Some of the leading types of industrial automation used by manufacturers include:

Fixed Automation 

Fixed automation, or hard automation, is an industrial automated process designed to produce a single product. The configuration of tooling, equipment, and machines automated for production are fixed. It is not easily reprogrammable or adaptable to different processes or products. This type of automation is ideal for high-volume, repetitive manufacturing processes where the product design and production requirements remain constant. Fixed automation is generally found in mass production environments such as assembly lines in automotive manufacturing, material conveyor systems, machining transfer lines, web handling and converting systems, and dedicated machinery for producing specific components. 

Programmable Automation

Programmable automation is a highly adaptable, computerized production process that uses commands coded or programmed into a system. Such systems allow tooling, equipment configurations, and operation sequences to be reprogrammed or reconfigured to handle different tasks or product variations. Because new programs can be written for each process, this flexibility suits mid-volume production or processes that may require occasional changeovers. In other words, programmable automation is favored for batch production runs in quantities ranging from a few dozen products to thousands of units. Robots and computer numerical control (CNC) machines are typical examples of programmable automation.

Flexible Automation

Though often confused with programmable automation, flexible automation systems are a more versatile manufacturing method designed to handle a broader range of tasks or product variations. These systems often utilize robotics, computer controls, and advanced sensors to adapt to changing requirements. They can be configured to perform production continuously and simultaneously for multiple product types at medium production rates. For instance, a flexible automated system may include robotic arms and CNC machines that can be easily reprogrammed to perform various production tasks. Another advantage is that changeovers are accomplished via computer programming with no downtime in production between batches.

Integrated Automation

Integrated automation is a holistic approach that combines various automation technologies, including hardware, software, sensors, and control systems, with minimal human input. The system is designed to create a seamless, interconnected network of automated processes and data exchange. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is a significant driver of integrated automation, allowing manufacturers to collect and analyze real-time data to optimize operations and make informed decisions.

Contact the Automation Experts at EAM, Inc.

Industrial automation for manufacturing encompasses a wide range of technologies and systems designed to streamline and optimize production processes. The choice of automation technology depends on the specific manufacturing process and the desired level of flexibility in production. EAM, Inc. offers custom industrial automation-engineered solutions from the ground up depending on what a client needs or wants to be accomplished. For more information, request a custom automation quote or contact us at EAM today.