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The Forms of Automation

With the world becoming smaller and the pace getting faster, Automation is becoming the means to survive.

But what is Automation?

Automation is the use of technology and digital tools to assume control of business processes resulting in a reduction in human input. Automation is being widely embraced due to its myriad benefits, such as an increase in efficiency, reliability, and productivity, which allows businesses to remain competitive in their industries.

Automation can be divided into 3 different types; namely fixed, programmable, and flexible automation.

  1. Fixed automation, also known as hard automation, follows a fixed sequence of automated processes according to the equipment’s configuration. Generally, it involves a simple operational process with functionalities such as linear or rotational movement, or a combination of both. Examples include automated assembly lines and chemical manufacturing processes.
      1. Advantages include: High rate of production and consistency in the quality of production
      2. Disadvantages include: High investment cost for equipment and difficulty in accommodating products changes
  2. Programmable automation has the ability to accommodate different configurations and therefore supports changes in the sequence of operations. The operational sequences are mandated by a program with set coded instructions. New programs can then be coded to implement changes into the production sequence. Examples include industrial robots and computer numerical controlled (CNC) machine tools.
      1. Advantages include: Flexibility in accommodating product variations and it is suitable for batch production
      2. Disadvantages include: Low production rates compared to fixed automation and product changes are often time-consuming and result in downtime in production
  3. Flexible automation, also known as soft automation, is seen as an extension of programmable automation. Its key feature is its ability to produce a spectrum of products with virtually no production downtime during changeovers of products. Flexible automation can create various combinations of products without needing them to be made in batches. It also has the ability to change product programs and the physical setup of equipment to meet product changes. Examples include industrial robots and multi-purpose CNC machines.
      1. Advantages include: Product flexibility and no time lost between changes to the production process
      2. Disadvantages include: Higher cost per unit compared to fixed automation and high equipment costs

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