Types of Industrial Automation Systems
| By: Daron Underwood, CTO, Vice President R&D
Industrial automation systems are categorized based on their integration level and flexibility in the manufacturing processes and operations. Different types of automation systems include:
Fixed automation systems are utilized in high volume production settings that have dedicated equipment. The equipment has fixed operation sets and is designed to perform efficiently with the operation sets. This type of automation is mainly used in discrete mass production and continuous flow systems like paint shops, distillation processes, transfer lines and conveyors. All these processes rely on mechanized machinery to perform their fixed and repetitive operations to achieve high production volumes.
Programmable automation systems facilitate changeable operation sequences and machine configuration using electronic controls. With programmable automation, non-trivial programming efforts are required to reprogram sequence and machine operations. Since production processes are not changed often, programmable automation systems tend to be less expensive in the long run. This type of system is mainly used in low job variety and medium-to-high product volume settings. It may also be used in mass production settings like paper mills and steel rolling mills.
Flexible automation systems are utilized in computer-controlled flexible manufacturing systems. Human operators enter high-level commands in the form of computer codes that identify products and their location in the system’s sequence to trigger automatic lower-level changes. Every production machine receives instructions from a human-operated computer. The instructions trigger the loading and unloading of necessary tools before carrying out their computer-instructed processes. Once processing is completed, the end products are transferred to the next machine automatically. Flexible industrial automation is used in batch processes and job shops with high product varieties and low-to-medium job volumes.
Integrated industrial automation involves the total automation of manufacturing plants where all processes function under digital information processing coordination and computer control. It comprises technologies like:
- Computer-aided process planning
- Computer-supported design and manufacturing
- Flexible machine systems
- Computer numerical control machine tools
- Automated material handling systems, like robots
- Automatic storage and retrieval systems
- Computerized production and scheduling control
- Automated conveyors and cranes
Additionally, an integrated automation system can integrate a business system via a common database. That is, it supports the full integration of management operations and processes using communication and information technologies. Such technologies are utilized in computer integrated manufacturing and advanced process automation systems.
When considering the right system for your business, the degree of industrial automation required for any manufacturing facility should be determined by the labor conditions, competitive pressure, manufacturing and assembly specifications, work requirements and the cost of labor. By taking these factors into consideration, you can ensure that your industrial software automation investment will be justified by a consistent profit increase.