For many people, automation is associated with robotics. However, there are different automation types and thus, different techniques might be applied depending on the type and the purpose of automation. Let us have a look at more details though to make all things clearer.

Automation can be divided into three main categories:

  • Fixed automation;
  • Programmable automation;
  • Flexible automation.
A heavy duty electric actuator is a base for all the automation types. It is a component that makes the machines move and perform the needed manipulations.

For the machine to move and to perform the manipulations, power is needed. Usually, we speak about electric power because it is renewable, easy-to-use, environmentally friendly, and can be transferred to any other power type. Along with these benefits, electric power can be stored in batteries.

Usually, automated systems perform two types of actions:

  • Processing;
  • Moving and positioning.
In the first case, the system performs some processing operations on the object.

In the second case, as you can guess from the position, we speak about moving and positioning of objects. Here, movement and positioning accuracy is important. This can be achieved perfectly if you use linear actuators in this machine type.

Another important component of a manufacturing unit is feedback control. It is used to measure different parameters of the object or the environment in which the object is placed and report on the changes.

No automation is possible without machine programming. A program determines a specific sequence of actions that shall be performed by the machine. In the program, all the machine elements are considered to make them move as a single mechanism. In the most advanced programmable machines, the action set might be changed in response to the change of product characteristics, environment changes, and similar.

Now, let us check all automation types and techniques one by one.

Fixed Automation

The term “fixed automation” refers to production lines. It is called fixed because all the processes and their consequences are fixed. Once the needed configurations in the equipment control systems are made, the system works based on the configuration.

This type of automation is perfect for manufacturing products that are made in huge volumes. The initial investment is pretty significant. But in the long run, all the expenses are paid off thanks to high production rates.

It is difficult to change the configurations if the product style changes. The commands are integrated into the machines in the form of hardware: cams, wires, gear, so, to modify something, you would need to replace the item.

The best examples of fixed automation lines can be observed in automotive facilities and chemical labs.

Programmable Automation

Programmable automation is suitable to manufacture products in specific batches (from a couple of dozen up to a couple of thousand pieces). Once a batch is ready, the operator reprograms the machine to prepare it for the manufacturing of the next batch. The tools are suited for the product changeover.

If you deal with this automation type, be ready that after a batch is produced, some time will be needed to change the configurations. Therefore, productivity is lower than, say, in the case of fixed automation systems.

A good example of programmable automation is industrial robots.

Flexible Automation

Flexible automation is the next step, an extension to the above described programmable automation. The main difference between flexible and programmable automation is that in the case of programmable automation, you need to replace some hardware to adapt the production to a new product style. You can check Emerson programmable automation controllers for they feature an extensive range to support scalable automation and minimize downtime. Thus, a lot of time is lost. This is a significant drawback because it makes the final product more expensive than it could be.

Flexible automation is used for the manufacturing of a very limited number of products. Thus, settings and adjustments shall be made fast. And indeed, all the modifications in the case with flexible automation are performed either automatically or super fast.

The main benefit of this automation type is that all the reprogramming is made on a computer without touching production lines. Thus, the modifications are being made while the production is running.

One more unbeatable benefit of this automation type is that with it, you don’t need to classify products in specific groups or batches. You can program the equipment to manufacture different products one after another, and it will be fine.

Final Thoughts

Automation types and techniques are very varied in the modern world. We are used to thinking about them in connection with manufacturing but in reality, they are applied everywhere. One of the newest automation trends in the development of robotics. For now, robots are widely used in manufacturing. But we expect them soon to expand to many other fields, too, including entertainment, service, and similar. Just the example of robotics demonstrates how wide the work automation is.