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INDUSTRIAL AUTOMATION CONTROL AND ITS LIMITATIONS

WHAT IS INDUSTRIAL AUTOMATION?

The modern and trending industrial production process is known as automation is a generalized term used to describe sets of robotic machines carefully synchronized to carry out sets of jobs sequentially such that the end result will yield a final product or a completed task in the production lines.

Automation may be a single large machine programmed or controlled to perform series of functions in a factory or may be sets of machines aligned together in a line of production or industrial activities. Besides being a programmed machine or machines, CNC machines are also used for the automation in industries and controlled through a computer program from a particular unit.

The automation machines may have no specific size limit but they must be able to have the load bearing capacity to perform the needed functions. They can be in the form of pneumatic machines, hydraulic machines, gasoline machines, and electric machines, etc. equipped with a control unit to process and carry out commands automatically in a sequential and repetitive manner.  In a large industrial set up, a complete production automation can be achieved using different engineering technics such as mechanical drives, hydraulic drives, pneumatic drives, electric drives, electronic devices such as sensors and actuators and a fully written computer program readable by the machines, etc. While a simple industrial automation may make use of only one or two of the above drives and a program.

Besides the industrial production sector, automation systems can be seen in airports, seaports, and warehouses, etc. where they perform specific functions to aid the staff’s overall activities.  The system has the benefit of saving labor, saving materials, accurate functions, reduction of electricity cost, improved service and reduction of production costs, etc.

industrial automation in a production plant

HISTORY OF INDUSTRIAL AUTOMATION

The history of automation can be traced back as far as 285-222 BC when Ctesibius, a Greek Engineer invented a water clock. However, the use of feedback controllers for an industrial purpose was rapidly adopted in the 1930s but was not referred to as automation until in 1947 when Ford Automobile industry established an automation department which focused on the ways of using automatic means for production.

In the seventeenth century, Christian Huygens invented a Centrifugal governor which was used to adjust the gap between millstones. In 1784, another centrifugal governor was used as part of a model steam crane by M. Bunce of England and the same governor was adopted by James Watt in 1788 for use on a steam engine. But these governors could not hold a set of speed as the engine will always assume a new constant speed based on load variations.

The fluctuations of heat loads from the industrial boilers were able to be handled by the governors and tendency of oscillation based on speed changes was common with the governors. This limitation of the governors made the engines of the early centuries using governors not to be used for applications or operations that will require constant speed. However, their improvements and the valve cut-off improvement led to their uses in steam engines suitable for industrial operations in the 19th century.

The attention for governors and their theoretical basis for understanding control theory started when James Clerk Maxwell published a paper in that regard. The advancement led to the development of negative noise feedback cancellations which helped to improve the long-distance telephony through electronic amplification in the 1920s, the idea and other theories contributed to the control system.

Irmgard Flugge-Lotz, a German mathematician developed the theory of discontinuous automatic controls in the 1940s and 1950s which found some military application during the Second World War in the fire control systems and aircraft navigation systems.

Before all these periods, Relay logic had undergone rapid adaptation from the 1900s through the 1920s and was introduced in the factories electrifications. The demand for instrumentations and control began to increase following the increased demand for new high-pressure boilers, steam turbines, and electrical substations, hence leading to the setting up of control rooms for industrial machines and equipment.

In the control rooms, the operators manually open or close valves or turn switches on or off and also use color coding lights to send signals to workers in the plant before making any certain change manually. The advancement of electronic devices, microchips and sensors had contributed to the factors that made the modern automation systems to be possible. Modern automobile and pharmaceutical industries make use of automated systems in their production line.

THE SIGNIFICANT APPLICATIONS OF AUTOMATION SYSTEM DISCOVERY

In 1929, 31.9% of the bell system of dial telephones were automatic following the automatic telephones’ switchboard introduced in 1892 along with dial telephones. Initially, Vacuum tube amplifiers and electro-mechanical switches were used for the automation and they consume a large amount of electricity, the problem led to the research and discovery of transistors.

The first commercially successful glass bottle blowing machine was automatic and was built to have the two-man crew working 12-hour shift and could produce 17,280 bottles in 24 hours when compared to 2,880 bottles made by a crew of six men and boys working in a shop per day.

The control theory led to the development of sectional electric drives used for different sections of machines where precise differential must be maintained between the sections.

The automation helped many chemical industries for the production of toxic chemicals and it increased their production capacities.

THE ADVANTAGES OF THE INDUSTRIAL AUTOMATION

It increases industrial production output.

It can help improve the quality of a product.

It makes the production system to be consistent.

It can produce uniformity in finished products.

It reduces human labor and its costs.

High precision and accuracy tasks can be best performed with an automation system.

The production speed and calculations can be controlled.

Tedious jobs that are harmful to human can be done using industrial automation example is the handling and processing of molten steel in a metallurgical industry.

It helps to reduce occupational injuries to workers.

Workloads and industrial activities beyond human capacity are usually done using the industrial automation.

Production time and cost can be reduced with automation.

It helps the industry minimize material wastages during production.

It has low accident rate.

It gives workers time to do other jobs within the industry.

It is the best approach for any production and marketing competitions.

THE DISADVANTAGES OF INDUSTRIAL AUTOMATION

The error coming from the set up can be very dangerous and may damage the entire production system.

A wrong setting or a defective unit can lead to mass production of the inaccurate or defective product leading to a huge financial loss.

It usually generates unpredictable technical development leading to loss of time and money.

It is very costly to set up automation system in an industry.

The workers will need special training on the operation and management of the system.

It increases unemployment rate since few workers will be needed in the entire production line.

LIMITATIONS OF INDUSTRIAL AUTOMATION

Though the automation has dominated most industrial activities, there are still jobs left for humans and those are the types that may be very hard for automation to handling based on their conditions such as inspection jobs, safety monitoring, and record keeping, etc. so in the actual sense, it is not all industrial activities that can be automated except those requiring repetition and uniform actions. Also, automation may not be necessary for industries whose product is of low demand and their low production meet the demand.

A mechanical engineer, an NDT inspector, Graphic designer & Web developer, I love blogging and sharing of knowledge for human intellectual development, especially relating to engineering fields, environment, and science trending updates.

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