The most important question is- What is Automation?
Definition of Automation:
In simple words, automation is the technique of making a process, or a system that operate automatically. It is the technology by which a process or procedure is performed with minimum human effort.
The purpose of automation is to boost efficiency and reliability. In most cases, however, automation replaces labor. In fact, today economists have fear that new technology will eventually increase unemployment rates.
Automation is widely used in a number of areas such as- manufacturing, transport, utilities, information technology etc.
Application of Automation:
One of the important application of automation is manufacturing.
Three types of automation in production can be distinguished:
(1) Fixed automation
(2) Programmable automation
(3) Flexible automation
This type of automation is also referred as hard automation. It refers to an automated production facility in which the sequence of processing operations is fixed by the equipment configuration.
Usually, the programmed commands are contained in the form of cams, gears, wiring, and other hardware. Programmed commands are not easily changed over from one product style to another.
This form of automation is identified by high initial investment and high production rates. This type is suitable for products that are made in large volumes.
Examples of fixed automation include the followings- Automatic assembly machines and certain chemical processes.
In this type of automation, the products are made in batch quantities. These quantities are ranging from several dozen to several thousand units at a time.
Here, for every new batch, the production equipment must be reprogrammed. This reprogramming and changeover take time to accomplish, and there is a period of nonproductive time followed by a production run for each new batch.
Here, the Production rate is lower than in fixed automation, since the equipment is designed to facilitate product changeover rather than for product specialization.
Example of programmable automation is a numerical-control machine tool.
The program is coded in computer memory for each different product style, and the machine tool is controlled by the computer program. Industrial robots are another example .
Flexible automation overcomes the drawback of programmable automation. The main drawback of programmable automation is the time required to reprogram and change over the production equipment for each batch of new product. This is lost production time, which is expensive.
Here, the variety of products is limited so that the changeover of the equipment can be done very quickly and automatically.
The reprogramming of the equipment is done off-line. The term off-line means that the programming is accomplished at a computer terminal without using the production equipment itself. There is no need to combine identical products into batches.