What do you understand by the word automation?

The term automation refers to the technique through which the creation of an apparatus takes place using an automatic process or a system. Let us try to understand this with an example.

Consider yourself entering a dark room. Now to turn the light on, you will manually press the switch on the wall. Now let's assume that you have installed a sensor in the room instead of the wall switch. This sensor has a simple open contact within it, just like a standard switch.

The way this sensor works is that it always looks into the room. When it sees someone entering the room, the open contact closes, and following that, the light turns on automatically. When the person leaves the room, and there is nobody there, the contact opens and this time, the light turns off automatically.

So, with this system, everything happens automatically on its own. Now, we can say that when you need to press the switch on the wall, the process occurs manually. But when the light turns on and off on its own when someone enters or leaves the room, the process happens automatically. Thus, the automatic way is more convenient and energy-efficient.

How will you describe automation in manufacturing process?

In the context of manufacturing a product, automation helps to automate the system/process for efficient and quality production of the product. Automation helps to increase productivity by increasing production with reducing the cost.

Let us bring the same manual versus automatic concept into the manufacturing industry. When we manufacture a product, there is always a start line and a finish line. The start line is where the raw materials enter the factory, and the finish line is where the final product is complete and ready to be shipped. A process turns the raw materials into the final finished product between the start and finish lines.

Now, this process can happen either manually or automatically. We can hire a few workers for the manual process to do the job, but we can put a system in place to take care of the whole manufacturing process in an automatic way.

With automation in manufacturing, the production work is fast, hassle-free, and accurate. So, industrial automation is all about large-scale processes with high-quality, high productivity, and consistent accuracy. The same principles apply to other industries such as automotive, steel, or oil and gas.

Types of automation in manufacturing process

Fixed automation in manufacturing

The term fixed automation refers to hard automation because most programming contains within an individual machine. The equipment or production line sets the speed and sequence of processes. The production volume associated with fixed automation does not have time for changeovers. However, if there are changes to fixed automation, it would likely require a line to shut down and technicians to manually swap tooling.

Example: A Coca-Cola mega factory, machining transfer lines found in the automotive industry, automatic assembly lines, a hobbing machine automatically producing a single type of gear.

Programmable automation in manufacturing

Programmable automation is associated with the creation of the manufacturing of several of dozens or thousands of units; this automation offers the capability to produce a variety of parts or a number of products. This program needs to be reprogrammed and changed to accommodate the product having a new style for every new batch. However, downtime is necessary to perform changeovers. The downtime that is created is considered for the batches of various sizes and lead times. This process is basically expensive, and at various instances of times, it leads to the extension of this automation that is named flexible automation.

Example: A numerical control (NC) can refer to programmable automation because a coding program runs into the memory and runs the machine tool in this machine. Industrial robots can be considered as another example of the same.

Flexible automation in manufacturing

Flexible automation is an extension of programmable automation because it can deal with changes automatically. This may be limit equipment to operate parts that share similar tools or need additional devices to make automatic changes possible.

Since the programs need to be changed, this type of automation is sometimes connected to some sort of network, increasing the value by offering remote monitoring or control. These programs are developed in offline mode for a computer. Depending upon the kind of connection of the system, a designer can perform various types of operations like uploading a program, running new programs, or can work on any product from any corner of the world.

Example: A hobbing machine is a machine that produces gears automatically without the requirement of shutting them down for a specific change.

The image represents the description of the types of automation in the manufacturing process.
Types of Automation

Automated production lines

The automated production line contains workstations and transfer systems, and the different parts move between the workstations. This type of line is generally used for long production and refers to fixed production.

Each station linked in these automation types is responsible for performing a specific operation to create the product stepwise. At one end of these stations, the raw work part is entered and from the other end. Many articles can process at a single point in time, and at the end of the line cycle, a finished part would obtain.


Robotics is described as a term representing the application of robots in design, operation, manufacturing, testing, and others. It improves the productivity of the industry and reduces human hazards. Robotics is widely used in manufacturing processes these days.

Applications of robotics

  • The transfer of material from one place to another and loading and unloading of material can perform with the help of a robot.
  • The robot operates a tool to perform a process on the work part in operations.
  • The use of robotics in assembly is expected to increase because of the high labour costs common in these operations. The design of the product is an important aspect of robotic assembly.
  • Inspection is another area of factory operations where robotics is growing. In a typical inspection job, the robot positions a sensor to the work part and determines whether the part is consistent with the quality specification.

Industry 4.0 or the fourth industrial revolution

Industry 4.0 refers to the intelligent networking of machines and processes with the help of information and communication technology. It represents a new stage in the organization and control of the industrial value chain.

The diagram represents the brief description of the four industrial revolutions.
Four Industrial Revolutions

Examples: Logistics 4.0, Construction 4.0, Energy 4.0 etc.

It describes the components of industry 4.0
Components of Industry 4.0

Computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM)

The term CIM refers to computer integrated manufacturing that completely automates a manufacturing facility. The different applications and technologies like computer-aided design (CAD), computer-aided manufacturing (CAM), etc., combines with CIM.

Benefits expected from automation in manufacturing processes

  • Higher flexibility 
  • Higher speed
  • Increased productivity
  • Improved product quality and scrap reduction
  • Higher product competitiveness 
  • Reduced chances of human errors
  • Higher decision-making control

Common Mistakes

Students may get confused about the types of automation, i.e., fixed automation, flexible, or programmable. Always remember that the major difference between these three is the type of production.

Context and Applications

This topic is significant in the professional exams for both graduate and postgraduate courses, especially for:

  • Bachelor of Technology in Mechanical Engineering
  • Bachelor of Technology in Production Engineering
  • Master of Technology in Production Engineering
  • Master of Technology in Mechanical Engineering
  • Human machine
  • Robotics
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Machine learning

Practice Problems

Q1. What is/are the objectives of Industry 4.0?

  1. Increase efficiency
  2. Reduce complexity
  3. Enabled self-controlling
  4. All of the above

Correct option: (d)

Explanation: The main objectives of industry 4.0 are to enable self-controlling, increase efficiency, increase productivity, reduce complexity, and others. It enables to achieve more with very little.

Q2. GUI stands for ____________.

  1. graphical user interface
  2. graphical user ID
  3. geo user interface
  4. none of the above

Correct option: (a)

Explanation: GUI stands for the graphical user interface. It is a computer program that enables human beings to communicate with a computer through using symbols.

Q3. CIM stands for __________.

  1. computer-integrated manufacturing
  2. computer-interface manufacturing
  3. computer-integrated monitoring
  4. computer-integrated monitoring 

Correct option: (a)

Explanation: Computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM) is a manufacturing process that uses computers to control various functions or processes during manufacturing.

Q4. How many types of automation are there?

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4

Correct option: (c)

Explanation: The automation of the system is classified into three types: fixed automation, flexible automation, and programmable automation.

Q5. What are the applications of robotics?

  1. Material handling
  2. Processing operations
  3. Assembly
  4. All of the above

Correct option: (d)

Explanation: Robotics is described as a term representing the application of robots in design, operation, manufacturing, testing, and others. The common robotics applications in industries are material handling, processing operations, assembly, and inspection.

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