Instrumentation and Control Automation


Automation is the use of control systems (such as numerical control, programmable logic control, and other industrial control systems), processes, reducing the need for human intervention.[1] In the scope of industrialization, automation is a step beyond mechanization. Whereas mechanization provided human operators with machinery to assist them with the muscular requirements of work, automation greatly reduces the need for human sensory and mental requirements as well. Processes and systems can also be automated.

Specialised hardened computers, referred to as programmable logic controllers (PLCs), are frequently used to synchronize the flow of inputs from (physical) sensors and events with the flow of outputs to actuators and events. This leads to precisely controlled actions that permit a tight control of almost any industrial process.

Human-machine interfaces (HMI) or computer human interfaces (CHI), formerly known as man-machine interfaces, are usually employed to communicate with PLCs and other computers, such as entering and monitoring temperatures or pressures for further automated control or emergency response.

At first glance, automation might appear to devalue labor through its replacement with less-expensive machines; however, the overall effect of this on the workforce as a whole remains unclear.Today automation of the workforce is quite advanced, and continues to advance increasingly more rapidly throughout the world and is encroaching on ever more skilled jobs, yet during the same period the general well-being and quality of life of most people in the world have improved dramatically. What role automation has played in these changes has yet to be studied.

The old focus on using automation simply to increase productivity and reduce costs was seen to be short-sighted, because it is also necessary to provide a skilled workforce who can make repairs and manage the machinery.

Automation is now often applied primarily to increase quality in the manufacturing process, where automation can increase quality substantially.

Another major shift in automation is the increased emphasis on flexibility and convertibility in the manufacturing process.


Advantages and Disadvantages

The main ADVANTAGES of automation are:

  • Replacing human operators in tedious tasks.
  • Replacing humans in tasks that should be done in dangerous environments (i.e. fire, space, volcanoes, nuclear facilities, under the water, etc)
  • Making tasks that are beyond the human capabilities such as handling too heavy loads, too large objects, too hot or too cold substances or the requirement to make things too fast or too slow.
  • Economy improvement. Sometimes and some kinds of automation implies improves in economy of enterprises, society or most of humankind. For example, when an enterprise that has invested in automation technology recovers its investment; when a state or country increases its income due to automation like Germany or Japan in the 20th Century or when the humankind can use the internet which in turn use satellites and other automated engines.

The main DISADVANTAGES of automation are:

  • Technology limits. Current technology is unable to automate all the desired tasks.
  • Unpredictable development costs. The research and development cost of automating a process is difficult to predict accurately beforehand. Since this cost can have a large impact on profitability, it’s possible to finish automating a process only to discover that there’s no economic advantage in doing so.
  • Initial costs are relatively high. The automation of a new product required a huge initial investment in comparison with the unit cost of the product, although the cost of automation is spread in many product batches. The automation of a plant required a great initial investment too, although this cost is spread in the products to be produced.

Controversial Factors

It is commonly thought that automation implies unemployment because the work of a human being is replaced in part or completely by a machine. Nevertheless, the unemployment is caused by the economical politics of the administration like dismissing the workers instead of changing their tasks. Since the general economical policies of most of the industrial plants are to dismiss people, nowadays automation implies unemployment. In different scenarios without workers, automation implies more free time instead of unemployment like the case with the automatic washing machine at home. Automation does not imply unemployment when it makes tasks unimaginable without automation such as exploring mars with the Sojourner or when the economy is fully adapted to an automated technology as with the Telephone switchboard.

  • Environment.

The costs of automation to the environment are different depending on the technology, product or engine automated. There are automated engines that consume more energy resources from the Earth in comparison with previous engines and those that do the opposite too.

  • Human being replacement.

In the future there is a possibility that the Artificial intelligence could replace and improve a human brain and the robots would become not only fully automated but fully autonomous from the human beings (Technological singularity)