We humans are sometimes a strange lot. First we invent an automated machine and hire scores of people needed to build it. Once the machine is built by the workers we then replace them with the machines they have just built. In a way it’s sort of like a soldier being shot at with the bullets he helped to produce. This whole sequence is often repeated through out the world because of the development and evolution of automation. The word automation comes from an ancient Greek word which means self-dictated and the phrase industrial automation basically means the use of control systems, such as computers, to operate and control industrial machinery and methods.
We can thank the Industrial Revolution of the late 18th and early 19th centuries with the start of automation as powered machinery was brought in to help speed up and increase the manufacturing process by using it to replace manual labor. The introduction of metal machinery enabled employers to manufacture more metal machinery to be used in most manufacturing processes. However, the new automated machinery did have some consequences as it carried high initial costs and maintenance costs.
The world of automation changed drastically in the mid 20th century as computers were brought in to program the machines into doing almost any human task imaginable. Since the computer made its first appearance in the manufacturing process, most modern industries have replaced humans with microprocessors and computers to perform numerous sets of repetitive tasks such as assembly lines. You now see robots doing the manual labor that humans used to do.
While many people argue that automation has negatively affected the number of jobs available in certain areas of the production, retail and service industries, it has brought about an increase in efficiency, productivity and consistent quality. However, automation has also created new jobs along the way as people are still needed to design, program and operate the computers and machinery used in the modern world. Automation has also allowed us to invent new products and has enabled many small and large businesses to flourish.
In many areas of the workforce, automation uses specialized computers called programmable logic controllers (PLC), which have encoded sets of instructions. These instructions are given by human machine interfaces (HMI) and can be as simple as giving an input signal to lift a component, to a machine bed to give it an output signal to move it to the next machine, and so on. Synchronization between the input and output signals is done by using a series of sensors and actuators, etc. In many machine shops and factories, complete assembly lines are now fully automated.
Another type of automation that involves computers is referred to as test automation. This takes place when computers are programmed to reproduce what human testers do when they are manually testing software applications. This process is accomplished by using test automation tools to produce special scripts which are written as computer programs. These programs then relay the information to the computer so it knows exactly what to do in order to perform the same manual tests. This process is very useful in manufacturing settings except for the production and inspection of most food products.
Almost everything we use is now capable of being made with some type of automated process. Your bottle of beer can be filled and capped by automation and the car you drive can also be predominantly built by robotics. And don’t forget that you can pay for all of these products by withdrawing your hard-earned money from an automated bank machine.