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What Is Industrial Automation?

Industrial automation uses computers or robots to operate mechanical equipment. These control systems can be as simple as a button or as technical as a complex software program, and though different, they all guide machinery and pieces of equipment to perform programmed tasks.

The applications of automation are far-reaching; most workplaces with mechanical processes use automation to some degree. Automation makes sense in an industrial setting because machines are perfect for handling the repetition inherent to manufacturing. Industrial automation in particular can include many different processes. The following are some frequently automated jobs:

  • Product assembly.
  • Heavy lifting.
  • Precision detail work.
  • Quality checks.
  • Safety protocols.

How Has Industrial Automation Shaped the World?

The widespread use of industrial automation has changed nearly every facet of manufacturing. The ability of machines to perform difficult tasks faster and more efficiently than humans who may lack the physical capability required has allowed productivity to increase. Robots can also perform duties that previously required workers to place themselves in harm’s way, thereby minimizing workplace injuries. By automating product construction, a manufacturer can achieve a much more consistent level of quality without the risk of human error.

These technological advances, which lead to the ubiquity of automated equipment, have also changed the nature of many jobs in manufacturing. There’s considerably less demand for manual labor than before, with many jobs requiring more technical knowledge and skill.

Besides changing the nature of labor in the trade, industrial automation has enabled virtually every item to be mass-produced on ever-larger scales, which in turn enables companies to meet demand with a steady supply of goods. This success translates to company growth and the addition of jobs.

How Has Industrial Automation Affected the Economy?

The Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation projects an average annual increase of 66,800 manufacturing jobs between 2015 and 2019, as reported by IndustryWeek. The continued growth of industrial automation has created many new jobs, and this trend will likely continue into the future.

Workers are needed to operate the machinery, technicians are needed to repair and maintain equipment, and new software and operating programs must be developed. Moreover, the continuous introduction of new technologies translates to a steady demand for employees with adequate education and training.

In addition to creating jobs, industrial businesses also contribute to economic growth by regularly purchasing, upgrading and replacing automated equipment. With the national economy continuing to improve, it seems likely that this trend will hold, and automation in industrial manufacturing will increase.

What Is the Future of Industrial Automation?

A McKinsey report offers an optimistic view of the future of industrial automation. The study estimates that less than 5 percent of occupations can be “entirely automated using current technology” and allays concerns linking technological innovation to employee redundancy. This estimate suggests that while industrial automation is extremely useful, it cannot — in most circumstances — replace humans entirely.

The McKinsey research concluded that 45 percent of work activities (sampled from 800 different jobs) can be automated, which suggests that automation could make existing jobs easier to perform.

The report also suggests that freedom from the more menial aspects of their jobs will enable workers to dedicate more of their brainpower to creative tasks and new ideas. This could potentially lead to even more innovation in the field of automation.

Learn about the UTPB online Bachelor of Science in Industrial Technology program.


McKinsey & Company: Four fundamentals of workplace automation

IndustryWeek: Strong Manufacturing Production Predicted for 2015, 2016

Cerasis Blog: Industrial Automation: A Brief History of Manufacturing Application & The Current State and Future Outlook

Sure Controls: What Is Industrial Automation?

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