Industrial automation is the use of technologies such as computer software and robotics to control machinery and processes which replace human beings in performing specific functions. The functions are primarily centered on manufacturing, quality control and material handling processes. The initial goals of industrial automation were focused on increasing productivity by extending work hours, and reducing the costs of maintaining a large human workforce. These goals have gradually shifted, and are now more focused on improving quality and flexibility.
For example, automated machinery can install pistons into a car engine with an error rate of 0.00001%, compared with the manual error rate of 1-1.5%. Manufacturing processes can be more flexible when automated, since robots can be programmed to do a new task more quickly than you can train the workers. Production lines can also become safer for workers, when robots are deployed into the most hazardous conditions. The main downsides to industrial automation are the high initial investment required to switch to automated production lines, and the costs involved in training employees to handle the equipment. Another disadvantage is the potential societal impact: many workers feel anxious about job security as automation may render their skills, education, and experience unnecessary.
Industrial automation is often associated with the “fourth industrial revolution,” also known as Industry 4.0, which also encompasses the advancement of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Industry 4.0 works with IIot and industrial software and hardware to improve manufacturing processes via internet-enabled devices, and ideally will create a manufacturing platform that is more reliable, consistent and efficient.