AX Control states at the top of our “About” page that we are “a global supplier of industrial automation parts.” But what exactly is industrial automation?
At its most basic definition, industrial automation is the use of various technologies like computers, interfaces, software, and robotics to control the machinery and associated processes that can be used in a variety of industrial settings. But let’s delve a little deeper.
Benefits of Industrial Automation
It may be said that industrial automation began with Henry Ford’s assembly line. But industrial automation goes far beyond that today. It includes the use of control systems run by robots or high-powered computers. These run information technologies that take care of processes and jobs that were formerly the responsibility of human beings. The advantages of the change to automation are several:
- More consistent quality. An automated industry tends to produce uniform goods.
- Fewer accidents. A properly designed industrial automation system will take over any dangerous tasks in the manufacturing process, reducing the possibility of employee injury.
- Improved productivity. Automation significantly improves output, even when the associated labor force shrinks.
Industrial Automation Tools
The manufacturing process can be impacted by industrial automation in several ways, depending on the tool used. Here is a list of the most common items used in industrial control.
- DCS, or Distributed Control System. A DCS is a control system that relies on multiple control loops. There are typically multiple autonomous controllers placed throughout the system. These systems are often used in very large manufacturing processes like chemical or water treatment plants, oil refineries, or nuclear power plants. GE’s Speedtronic Mark IV was a DCS system.
- Robotics/Robots. Robots are specifically designed machines that can carry out complex actions automatically either via embedded control or through programming from an external device. Robotics improve automation quality, increase production flow, and help decrease the chance of employee injury by performing dangerous tasks.
- HMI, or Human Machine Interface. An HMI is a user interface that allows the operator (worker) to interact with the controller. An HMI is usually designed as a touch panel or touchpad. But now with IoT technology, HMIs can be embedded into mobile devices like smartphones.
- SCADA, or Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition. SCADA control systems use computers, GUIs(otherwise known as graphical user interfaces), and networked data communications for high-level commands. Real-time control calculations from field sensors and actuators are controlled by networked modules. This data is fed upward through several levels of control to the plant supervisory level, which translates and performs data analysis. This system is similar to DCS systems in function but uses various means to control all parts of the plant.
- PLC, or Programmable Logic Controller. A PLC is very much like a rugged industrial digital computer that has been specifically designed to control manufacturing processes like robotic devices and assembly lines. They are typically designed to hold up under harsh conditions even with long-term, repetitive use.