1: the technique of making an apparatus, a process, or a system operate automatically
2: the state of being operated automatically
3: automatically controlled operation of an apparatus, process, or system by mechanical or electronic devices that take the place of human labor
“Automation is the Future”
In our world of increased technology and pace of business, there is no room for repetitive, menial tasks done by human beings that are capable of a much higher level of performance. In our country, traditional education styles of math and science have been replaced by calculators, computers and Wolfram (Computational Knowledge Engine), where complex problems can be solved with little effort. This allows for more time to be spent on more interesting things and pursuit of higher achievements.
Automation in the traditional sense was typified by the Industrial Revolution, where assembly lines and machines could make and produce things faster and more cost effectively than humans. It was also the beginning of a higher of standard of workplace safety where machines could do more dangerous tasks and remove the risk of injury and death.
Today Automation is a concept whose definition needs to be expanded beyond the assembly line and the shop floor, to each and every person and business that wants to be more effective and free up time for more pleasurable or important things. It is around us and sometimes we take it for granted. A simple example is the thermostat in your home or office that regulates the temperature within a few degrees to the desired setting (setpoint). When you send a print job to the printer, a series of commands translates the print settings and the document into a format the printer can process through the use of a ‘printer driver’. This means that you don’t have to enter those settings manually, nor type in commands etc. for it to work. It is Automatic. Even functions in software, such as Microsoft Excel can translate parameters into a command that executes and produces a result by automatically executing steps. Programmers can use VBA scripts to automate repetitive calculations.
With the prices of computers and processing hardware dropping, coupled with Open license software and development libraries, automation has never been easier or cheaper to implement. Companies that take advantage of this will easily surpass their competitors who are relying on the workforce to perform tasks that could be automated.
Industrie 4.0 is the latest standard in Automation and defines IIoT. The concept is that we are in the fourth stage of the Industrial Systems. Previous stages were:
- Mechanization – water and steam powered systems
- Mass Production – electricity and assembly lines
- Computerization – CNC machines and automation
- Cyber-physical systems – Machines connected to the ‘Internet of Things‘
The power of mechanized processes that are driven by computers and the Internet removes the constraints of human control. By using Analytics, companies can better anticipate client orders and deal with lead-times on materials etc., all (potentially)without any human interaction. This then allows for 24/7 production, and with online ordering and automated fulfillment of these orders, small batches are as economical as big ones, without the need to store materials or products. An example of this is Amazon online bookstore where books are printed when the online order is received, regardless of the quantity. They are shipped immediately and nothing is ever ‘out of stock’, nor is there any ‘inventory’ to store. Except for supervising the process, there are few if any actual people involved.
This is a simple application of IIoT and how it is changing the way business is being run today.