Online Master's in Electrical Engineering

Industrial Automation

April 12, 2016

Automation can help companies improve the safety and efficiency of their factories, minimize human error when steering ships and aircraft, and save money throughout their operations. But the future applications of industrial automation will dwarf those we’re familiar with today. To learn more, checkout the infographic below sponsored by the University of California, Riverside’s Online Master of Science in Engineering program.

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Automation through time
Automation is not a new concept. Most human beings have great difficulty performing mundane, repetitive and time-consuming tasks with a certain degree of consistency. The use of machines and tools to make performing dull tasks easier has long been a technological impetus for human inventors and visionaries. Early industrial automation includes the mechanical loom in 1784 and the assembly line in 1913. Advances in automation technology has indelibly seen a shift in economic paradigms and, consequently, social norms. Automation took a leap forward with the introduction of the programmable logic controller in 1974. Modern technology is currently turning the concept of automated industrial economies into reality.

Increasing demand for automation services
There is a growing demand for automation services. It is expected that with a compound annual growth rate of 6.7%, the revenue from the industrial control and factory automation market will reach 202.42 billion dollars by the year 2020. Modern industries are now incorporating automation to perform basic services. Amazon’s fleet of Kiva robots improve fundamental logistic functions and is a four-fold improvement over the previous system’s ability to fulfill warehouse orders. IBM’s Watson, which started as a prototype question-answering machine, can now perform functions usually reserved for human health care professionals. As artificial intelligence becomes even more advanced, automation systems will inevitably be created to handle increasingly complicated and difficult tasks. The car manufacturing industry has relied on automation systems since the advent of the assembly line to churn out parts and even entire vehicles for public consumption. Today, the automotive industry has one of the highest demands for robots and automation systems. Around 98,900 new robots were installed in 2014, a 43% increase from the previous year.

Consistency in terms of production speed and product quality is the main reason industries turn to automation. The need for uniform product quality is particularly important in the food and beverage industry. Human error can lead to subpar products that can cause financial loses for a food and beverage company. The use of automation in food and beverage production is seeing a constant increase as technology catches up with basic human capability. As the Internet opens up more and more options in terms of information architecture, consumers become even more empowered can have more flexible and tailor-made access to products that meet their unique specifications. The use of social networks and 3D online shopping, together with personal product customization tools will only serve to enhance the ability of consumers to obtain the exact product that they need.

Industries that are the linchpin of economies are becoming increasingly dependent on automation. Oil and gas are still the prime sources of energy and fuel for most of the world. There are many steps that need to be performed to obtain, purify and process fossil fuel. Using automation is thus seen as a way that can lower production costs and increase revenue. With a compound annual growth rate of 8.23%, the growth on industrial automation for oil and gas is expected to reach 31.24 billion dollars by 2020.

The future of automation
The future of automation sees an increase in individual automation functionality, human collaboration and incorporation of basic artificial intelligence. Tasks like sorting different things used to rely on human cognition and decision-making. One automation system developed by Refind Technologies in Sweden can sort alkaline, nickel metal hydride, nickel cadmium and lithium batteries automatically. Known as the OBS 600, this system is capable of sorting different battery types at a rate of 15 pieces per second.

The rise of automation has always been a source of uncertainty for human workers. As automation technology becomes more and more able to perform tasks previously done by human beings, workers are concerned that the human factor in major industries will experience a corresponding decline. Future automation technologies are now addressing the need for more collaborative systems that can manage to assist humans in performing tasks and even allow automation systems and human beings to work together in specific projects. This allows industries to get the best of both worlds: the precision and consistency provided by automation coupled with the decision-making and troubleshooting that can only come from a human being.

New technology directions
The Internet is becoming an increasingly important aspect of modern life. People are now able to use Internet access not just to obtain information and maintain personal relationships, they can now also use them to send instructions and receive feedback from appliances and modern equipment. Automation technology sees increased Internet connectivity as a major avenue for research and development. There is a projected fifty-fold increase in the number of Internet-connected devices in the industrial automation sector from 2012-2025. Remote access, Internet connectivity and integrated automation systems are seen as future technological advances worth investing in as it is projected to have a compound annual growth of 36.3%.

Automation is projected to become a major part of industries worldwide. Advances in automation technology can lead to corresponding economic shifts and can fundamentally change the way manufacturing, logistics, monitoring and customer interaction tasks are performed. As technology improves, automation systems become more and more capable of performing increasingly complex and difficult tasks. Artificial intelligence gives mundane automation an expanded dimension and allows machines to take over certain tasks that require decision-making and problem solving. Connectivity via the Internet can make total remote operation closer to reality. As industrial automation technology advances, steps are already taken to craft systems that emphasize the potential of collaborative interaction between humans and machines. The future is bright for industrial automation and the projected Automation has shaped our world in the past and will certainly continue to have a significant impact in our future.

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