How is automation used in Industry?

During the industrial revolution industrial processes were mechanised to increase productivity and profitability. The development of computer technology and has provided the data processing capability to automated industrial processes to further reduce the level of manual intervention, increasing efficiency, repeatability. The seamless integration of technology (digitization) to run systems autonomously incorporating machine learning is now being referred to as the 4th industrial revolution or “Industry4” (the 2nd being introduction of alternative power source through electricity, and the 3rd being adoption of computers).

How is automation used in manufacturing?

Manufacturing is a mechanical process employing machinery to perform tasks.  Within the process environment each movement can be performed automatically through signal processing, ultimately the integration of all movement delivers an automated process – press the button and it all happens.  The complexity behind this requires sensors, feedback loops, interlocks, and an array checking systems.  If set up in the right way, an automated cell or system will not require any manual intervention from start to finish.  This allows 24hr lights out operation maximising throughput and profitability alongside accuracy and repeatability and should be a standard requirement for modern production machine shops.  Unattended small batch, high mix production is a standard provision with automation.

What are the advantages of automation?

Removing people from the manufacturing operation takes out variability and any restraint imposed by the working environment.  The temperature and air quality in the immediate vicinity of manufacturing process may not be ideal for humans, an automated process avoids any possible health and safety issues.  Applied in the right way automation increases productivity, accuracy, repeatability, and speed.  By maximising utilisation mass manufacturing can deliver significant cost savings and profitability.

What are the different types of automation?

At a basic level, automation may simply be a machine transferring something from one place to another.  The value of automation happens with increased integration of the automated elements through to antonymous manufacturing. A standard pallet-based handling system is the key to achieving a substantially unattended production facility.  Standard pallets can support a whole range of parts with their own individual fixture.  The required mix of parts is then loaded into the handling magazine ready to run.  At this point the cell checks that the NC program exists and the correct cutting tools are available. Prioritising the job order is the final task.   The machining cell now carries out your production requirements unattended.  Your parts are produced on time and right first time. Keeping the spindle turning requires the machining centre be continually fed with a succession of jobs.  A handling device is the ideal solution for automated production.

Handling pallets of varying sizes as the pallet size can be selected to suit the job, not the machine.  Pallet costs are kept low and the overall floor space is kept to a minimum.

Fixed Automation

It is a system in which the sequence of processing (or assembly) operations is fixed by the equipment configuration. The operations in the sequence are usually simple. It is the integration and coordination of many such operations into one piece of equipment that makes the system complex. The typical features of fixed automation are:

  1. High initial investment for custom–Engineered equipment;
  2. High production rates; and
  3. Relatively inflexible in accommodating product changes.


The economic justification for fixed automation is found in products with very high demand rates and volumes. The high initial cost of the equipment can be spread over a very large number of units, thus making the unit cost attractive compared to alternative methods of production. Examples of fixed automation include mechanized assembly and machining transfer lines.

Programmable Automation

production equipment is designed to change the sequence of operations to accommodate different product configurations. The operation  is controlled by a programme, which is a set of coded instructions so that the system can read. New programmes can be prepared and entered into the equipment to produce new products. Some of the features that characterize programmable automation are:

  1. High investment in equipment;
  2. Low production rates
  3. Flexibility to deal with changes in product configuration; and
  4. Most suitable for batch production.


Automated production systems that are programmable are used in low and medium volume production. The parts or products are typically made in batches. To produce each new batch of a different product, the system must be reprogrammed with the set of machine instructions that correspond to the new product. The physical setup of the machine must also be changed over: Tools must be loaded, fixtures must be attached to the machine table also be changed machine settings must be entered. This changeover procedure takes time. Consequently, the typical cycle for given product includes a period during which the setup and reprogramming takes place, followed by a period in which the batch is produced. Examples of programmed automation include numerically controlled machine tools and industrial robots.

Flexible Automation

is an extension of programmable automation. A flexible automated system is one that is capable of producing a variety of products (or parts) with virtually no time lost for changeovers from one product to the next. There is no production time lost while reprogramming the system and altering the physical setup (tooling, fixtures, and machine setting). Consequently, the system can produce various combinations and schedules of products instead of requiring that they be made in separate batches.

The features of flexible automation can be summarized as follows:

  1. High investment for a custom-engineered system.
  2. Continuous production of variable mixtures of products.
  3. Medium production rates.
  4. Flexibility to deal with product design variations


The essential features that distinguish flexible automation from programmable automation are:

  1. the capacity to change part programmes with no lost production time; and
  2. the capability to changeover the physical setup, without lost production time.
Skip to toolbar